December 9, 2013

At the Met: Beautiful Little Bottles

Each bottle in the exhibit "Small Delights: Chinese Snuff Bottles" is a marvel of materials carefully crafted to produce an object of great beauty. The variety of shape and color and material makes this small display of 88 bottles seem much larger and more comprehensive than the subject might seem to offer. But then of course I'm a fan of small work. You can see almost all the pieces in the show at the link in high resolution, very well photographed. If you do so, you'll see that I chose to photograph the simpler pieces since they suit my sensibility.

On left, Snuff Bottle, late 18th - early 19th century; rock crystal with jadeite stopper.
On right, Snuff Bottle, late 18th - early 19th century; amethyst.

On the museum website I learned that snuff, a combination of finely ground tobacco and herbs, was introduced to China by Europeans in the later 17th century; at that time the royal ateliers began to produce snuff bottles. Its use slowly spread throughout Chinese society. These exquisite bottles were highly prized. When I look at these pieces, I am amazed at the way the stone is used in such a sensitive manner so that its characteristics enhance the design.

On left, Snuff Bottle, late 18th - early 19th century; Lapis lazuli with jadeite stopper. 
On right, Snuff Bottle, late 18th - early 19th century; turquoise. 

Some of the materials used were precious, as with lapis and turquoise. 

Snuff Bottle, late 18th century; yellow glass with nephrite stopper.

Even glass was handled in such a way as to make it jewel like.

Snuff Bottle in the Shape of an Octagon, 19th century; red glass with coral stopper.

Although most of the bottles were curving forms, this one has clear geometric lines, its rich color ready to burst out of its confines.

Snuff Bottle with Gold Speckles, late 18th - early 19th century; blue glass with glass stopper.

This piece has the feel of a starry night, with its tiny spoon floating in space.

Snuff Bottle, late 18th century; agate with amethyst quartz stopper.

There is such elegance in the curve of the bottle and the relationship of colors. All of these bottles are quite small, from 2 to 4 inches high. This one is 3 inches.

Snuff Bottle in Simulated Realgar, late 18th century; variegated red glass with turquoise stopper.

Snuff Bottle with Mottled Surface, late 18th - early 19th century; mottled black glass with jadeite stopper. 

The two pieces above have beautifully elongated shapes, and a magical use of glass.

Snuff Bottle with Image of a Tiger, 19th century; chalcedony with malachite stopper.

The natural variation of mineral color is used to great effect here....

Snuff Bottle with Swimming Fish, late 18th century; white glass with ivory and glass stopper. 

....while in this piece a fish is added in green on the white surface.

Snuff Bottle, late 18th - early 19th century; rock crystal with coral and glass stopper.

This is the only bottle that was shown with a woven string for carrying; it enabled me to imagine the bottle in use. I could have spent a very long time looking at these little treasures, discovering more and more wonderful details. Sometimes the simplest of forms can provide deep pleasure.

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