Snuff bottle - ROM2005_3753_1


Snuff bottle

Medium:Mould-blown glass
Geography: China
Date: c. 1903
Period: Qing Dynasty
6 x 3 cm
Object number: 975.206.3
Credit Line: Gift of Miss Violet Stewart
On view
Gallery Location:Bishop White Gallery of Chinese Temple Art

This small bottle was used for storing snuff, a finely ground tobacco inhaled through the nose. While there are accounts of smoking tobacco in China from the early 17th century, there is no official record of snuff until 1684, when it was among gifts presented to the Kangxi emperor by European missionaries. The habit of snuff taking immediately became popular at court and miniature decorative bottles were specially designed to hold small quantities. As the practice spread beyond the court, the demand for snuff bottles grew, fashioned from almost any material that could be formed in the shape of a bottle.

On one side of this bottle there is a poem by the artist Ma Shoxuan:

I exhausted all my powers of concentration,
Turned into a madman for painting and calligraphy.
But worthies of the past would surely laugh at me,
For I know my results are but trivial and incomplete.

On the other side there are two fan paintings, one of a landscape scene and the other of a bird on a branch. The calligraphic panels with black backgrounds are simulating ink rubbings and are written in standard script. The square panel is supposed to represent writing on paper and is written in running script.

The technique of painting the interiors of glass or rock-crystal bottles began in the early 19th century. Most of these bottles date from the founding of the Beijing school of artists in the late 1870s. Unlike bottles in other materials left unsigned by the artisans who made them, interior painted bottles were often signed by the artist. This one is signed Ma Shoxuan and dated 1903.

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