Passed down from earlier generations, this lidded boxwood snuff bottle with sloped shoulders, crafted by Zhu Zhizhi, a well-known wood carving artist in the late Qing dynasty, presenting a beautiful painting scroll of a leisurely gathering of elegant scholars against the background of pavilions, springs and mountains. The 12 elderly men are in various postures and expressions, either playing a zither or chess, fishing, or listening to the gurgling of springs. The statuette of “intoxicated Taibai” (the typical artistic image of the renowned Tang-dynasty poet Li Bai) served as the knob erecting on the lid. And a seal of “Zhizhi” can be found on where the neck meets the shoulders.
Though tiny in size, this piece shows a perfect combination of a series of techniques such as freestanding, openwork, deep and shallow carving, revealing the crafter’s masterful skills through the illustration of a complicated scene full of real-life landscape and vivid figures within a fingertip-sized area.
The tiny snuff spoon glued to the lid and hidden inside the bottle is a testimony to the incomparable carving skills of the miniature ivory-carving master Zheng Tong. The spoon features a beautiful lady in an elegant gesture, looking to the distance while standing beside the balustrade of a pavilion, beside which there is also an inscribed poem, composed of shallowly-carved characters in the size of fly feet.