I wake in the middle of the night. The moon is looking in, a soft cool breeze blows over my face, a feint scent of lemons wafts into the room. I lie thinking about banks, housing, residence, airline tickets, travel plans.
But I want to lie there thinking about Chinese snuff bottles instead. Like this darling (above), in carved glass.
(See some other wonderful examples of this art genre at the International Chinese Snuff Bottle Society's website).
Among the items on that website, there is something odd:
Snuff-bottle makers often worked in one medium to imitate another (e.g., carved porcelain to imitate ivory, etc.). So only one naturally asks -- what is this? It looks like... Dutch steamed rye bread?
The technique, we are told, is -- er? -- molded gourd.
What is molded gourd?, you might well ask. A modern-day practitioner of the art explains:
The small gourd fruit, after dropping its flower, is inserted through the mold opening. The gourd grows into the mold confines during the summer season. At frost time, the stem is cut leaving the mold with the gourd inside. The mold is then opened ad the gourd is set to dry.Here are examples of his work. (It's really quite interesting).
How very, very weird.
Many snuff boxes were made in enameled copper -- they represent a kind of sub-genre. A copper enamel piece typically look like this:
(This page allows you to see this piece, once part of Qianlong's collection, now at National Palace Museum in Taipei, in all of its gloriously astounding detail).
At the very same NPM, there is a curious pair -- of European-made enameled copper snuff-bottles. Here is one of them:
They are of the usual shape typical of Chinese enameled copper pieces. Or rather close to it. But they differ in three ways: the colors are European; the roundel is a European miniature natura morta; and in the bottle cap there is... a miniature watch (clocks and watches being the only thing the Chinese were interested in buying from European merchants until the latter hit upon the idea of selling them opium).
Sadly, there appears to be no record of how, why, by whom or for whom the pair was made. Yet, there must be a rich story: the item was almost certainly commissioned as a gift from one person to another; the two certainly knew each other well and probably transacted business together; one -- the recipient -- collected snuff boxes; and was clearly a man of both means and exquisite taste; the other -- the giver -- had European contacts as well as considerable wherewithal. Since the order took two years to transmit to Europe, a year to make, and a year or two to return, the gifts was intended for, one assumes, an important, long term relationship. One also assumes the recipient could not have been too old: one does not plan five years in advance gifts to be given to septuagenarians.
(The Sherlock method works well in this instance, does it not?)
Anyway, this is the kind of stuff I would rather be thinking about.