Search by Subject
Search by Institution
Glass Snuff Bottle with Interior Painting

Tags: glass | National Palace Museum | vessel


Ch'ing Dynasty (1644-1911)
Body height: 6 cm 
In the late 17th century, Western snuff and snuff containers entered China. At its peak, various Western countries and the Vatican in Rome often presented snuff and snuff containers as gifts to the court. Since snuff boxes were not ideal containers for snuff, people at the time adapted and used small-mouthed jars originally used in the Ming dynasty for medicine. This is the format of the snuff bottle that became the one with which we are now familiar. The stopper for the opening of the bottle was made from cork, into which was inserted a small long-handled spoon. This was used to scoop out the snuff and either place it into a small dish or in one's palm so that it could be pinched and placed in the nose. In chapter 25 of "Dream of the Red Chamber", there is a part where Ch'ing-hsia falls ill, suffering from headaches and a stuffy nose. Using Chia Pao-yü's snuff, Ch'ing-hsia's nasal congestion is thereby cleared. In the Ch'ing dynasty, with the growing popularity of snuff, snuff bottles became quite common. In the High Ch'ing period, they were made from all sorts of fine materials. In the Chia-ch'ing reign (1796-1820), a major innovation in the production of snuff bottles was made, in which the inside of the bottles could be painted. Painting the inside of a small snuff bottle, with its very restricted opening, is presumably very difficult to accomplish. Corundum sand and small bearings are first placed in the bottle and shaken to make the surface inside slightly rough, which makes it easier for the paint to stick. Then a specially curved fine brush is inserted into the rim less than half a centimeter to paint the interior of the bottle. In this bottle is portrayed a rustic scene with figures and buildings finely painted, with the mountains even having the effect of shading. On one side near the neck is the craftsman's signature that reads, "Painted in the winter month and made by Chou Le-yüan". This snuff bottle is from the former Ch'ing court collection, and Chou Le-yüan was active in the late 19th century. Thus, this bottle is a local work that was presented as tribute to the court in the late 19th century.

Text: Shih Ching-fei

Text and images are provided by National Palace Museum