Not to be sniffed at

16/08/2016     Asian Art

Around the mid-late 16th century tobacco was a new sensation in China. Brought over by the Portuguese, it was originally for the court and its higher classes, but soon found its way into society and to the 'common man'. By the end of the 17th century snuff became a regularly feature of life in China and where better to keep one's snuff than in a snuff bottle. With the ban on tobacco in the Ching Dynasty (1644-1912), however much (or not) adhered to, the popularity of snuff increased as snuff was believed by the Chinese to be a cute for common ailments like colds, stomach disorders and headaches. 

Snuff bottles began as functional objects, made of wood, metal and ceramic, quickly followed by jade, ivory and fine porcelain examples. Generally hand-size, the bottle typically stopper has a small spoon to lift out the snuff. The Chinese love of beauty in function came quickly to snuff bottle production, and elaborately carved, painted and decorated works of art came to pass. All sorts of decoration and motifs can be found on snuff bottles across the centuries. 

Ivory was one material popular in snuff bottle production though seen at auction less frequently than its bothers in porcelain and glass. A sign of prestige, ivory was favoured by the rising middle classes. Some believed in its power to bring good fortune, others wealth or health. Ivory artists have long shown their skills in this material and The Asian Works of Art Auction features many artworks in ivory. Focusing on snuff bottles, lot 866 brings an impressive collection to the market, with nine examples in ivory and another in hardstone. One example shows a boy climbing nuts, while another is modelled as a hare with its stopper formed as a carrot in its mouth. Estimated at £700-1000, the collection is sure to attract enthusiasts the world-over. 

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