Snuff Bottle and Stopper
Herons in Lotus Pond
Egret and Lotus
Artist/maker unknown, Chinese
Snuff-made of tobacco that is ground into a powdered form and spiced with aromatic substances-was introduced to China from Japan in the late seventeenth century. Chinese elites believed that the powder had medicinal properties, and initially used cylindrical medicine bottles to hold this new "Japanese tobacco." Soon after, the Kangxi Emperor (reigned 1662 - 1722)-known for his fondness for snuff and a devoted patron of the arts-established a series of workshops in Beijing to manufacture small, high-quality objects for court use, including snuff bottles. The repertoire of bottle shapes, materials, and motifs dramatically expanded under imperial patronage, and artisans facilitated the dispensing of the tobacco by adding stoppers with attached ivory spoons.
Snuff bottle production reached aesthetic and technological heights during the reign of the Qianlong Emperor (1736 - 1795), who particularly appreciated the artfulness of the miniature containers. Members of the Qianlong court frequently exchanged the exquisite receptacles as gifts, and by the mid-nineteenth century, snuff bottles had become mandatory items of apparel for Chinese gentlemen and those who aspired to this status. The popularization of these vessels helps account for the many glass bottles produced to resemble jade, agate, quartz, lapis lazuli, and other precious materials: glass snuff bottles were less expensive and a good imitation passed all but the closest scrutiny. Chinese interest in snuff bottles as collectibles continued into the twentieth century, when delicate, inside-painted wares dominated the market.The egret is an emblem of the scholar-official in the Qing dynasty and represents pureness with its clean, white plume. Together with a lotus, another essential symbol of purity, they create the rebus yi lu qing lian meaning “may you achieve high rank while being honest and upright.”