Snuff Bottles

THE Chinese throughout the entire development of their art evinced a fondness for small and precious talismans and toys which they treasured in hidden places or often carried about in the folds of their huge sleeves. Such are the early jade amulets presented to the Museum last year, and such, from a later age, are the one hundred and seventy-one small snuff-bottles in CASES F and H of GALLERY 4, which rank among the most interesting and valuable objects in the Altman Collection, both from the precious materials used in their manufacture and from the meticulous care which has been lavished on their ornamentation. They were used for scents, cosmetics, and medicines, as well as for snuff, and may be divided according to material into two classes, the one of porcelain, the other of hard stones. The earliest of the porcelain bottles date from the late Ming dynasty, but the majority correspond both in period and type with the larger porcelains in the collection, and examples of most of the varieties of ware made under K’ang Hsi, Yung Ch’ing, and Ch’ien Lung may be found repeated in delicate miniature among the snuff-bottles, although the structure and finish of the small pieces are far finer than in the large specimens.

The hard stones include such precious and semi-precious minerals as sapphire, amethyst, turquoise, jasper, carnelian, agate, sardonyx, chalcedony, lapis-lazuli, crystal, alabaster, and jade. The charm of color in these rare materials, as well as the ingenuity of the lapidaries who have carved from them so interesting a series of subtly varied shapes, brings to mind perhaps more clearly than the more monumental objects the exquisite quality of Chinese civilization in its culminative years.