Ivory snuff bottle carved in shape of a goose

AnonymousQianlong period (1736 - 1795), Qing dynasty

Hong Kong Museum of Art

Hong Kong Museum of Art

This ivory snuff bottle was carved in the shape of a goose. The entire body was carved with fine lines in relief indicating feathers. The eyes are inlaid in black, the head is embellished with a semi-precious stone in red and the beak inlaid with rhino horn. The cover of the snuff bottle is fashioned as a hinged section carved out of its breast. Underneath is a stopper with a spatula for scooping the snuff. The webbed feet are folded under the body, and are realistically depicted with brown staining. The entire piece is ingeniously conceived and rendered with great naturalism. Inside of the hinged cover, there is a four-character mark of the Qianlong period recording the date it was made. The Qianlong emperor was particularly fond of intricate ivory carvings. This snuff bottle exemplifies the best 18th century ivory carvings. With an ingenious design, good sense of proportion, superb carving and fine details, it is considered an outstanding artefact of the period. The taking of snuff and the exchange of snuff bottles as a social custom were very popular activities in Europe as early as the 16th century. In the late Ming period, the habit of snuff taking was introduced to China, and during the Qing dynasty it spread from the court to the general public. The Chinese devised snuff bottles as containers for snuff, which was made by grinding tobacco into a fine powder. The use of snuff bottles also became a reflection of one's social status. A large variety of materials were used to produce snuff bottles, including metal, porcelain, jade and other stones, lacquer, glass, ivory and bamboo. Thus the making of snuff bottles illustrates the techniques of traditional Chinese decorative art in the aspects of carving and modelling using different materials.

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