The Enchanting Legacy of Tiny Treasures: The Celestial Elixir
Intriguingly known as “Yanut” or simply ‘snuff’, this concoction combines finely ground tobacco leaves with aromatic herbs and spices, designed for inhalation through the nose.
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Snuff made its way into China during the 17th century, thanks to the intrepid missionaries, diplomats, and European traders. Snuffing involved a peculiar method to induce sneezing, believed to cleanse impurities and ward off fevers. With its unique, novel approach and the costly nature or snuff, it garnered attention among the elite and the Chinese nobility, making it a symbol of opulence and high status.
During the reign of Emperor Kangxi, the birth of the iconic snuff bottle was celebrated widely. European missionaries gifted snuff containers to the Emperor, but they were not suitable for the humid Chinese climate, causing the powdered snuff to clump together. It was within the royal workshops that a brilliant solution was devised, as they began storing snuff in delicate, ancient Chinese handcrafted glass bottles. These bottles were compact, measuring no more than 3 inches in height, featuring intricate designs and a cork to preserve the precious contents. The materials used varied, including wood, porcelain, glass, jade, metals, and even precious gemstones.
Emperor Kangxi held the production of snuff bottles in high regard. In 1695, he established a dedicated workshop for the imperial manufacture of these bottles. It was Buddhist monks of the Baohua Monastery who were entrusted with overseeing the production of glass snuff bottles, resulting in distinctive and elaborated creations. These bottles blended Western techniques with traditional Chinese artistry, showcasing breathtaking craftsmanship through glassblowing and painted motifs. Snuff bottles, celebrated for their elegance, became the most sought-after collectibles among the Qing elite, reflecting various facets of Chinese culture, from myths and folktales to Buddhism, Taoism, and auspicious symbolism. The snuff-taking habit continued to grow, eventually becoming popular among the general population in China during the 19th century, with snuff bottles being mass-produced. This trend led to the creation of a multitude of snuff bottles, produced in various quantities, some on an industrial scale, in Jingdezhen kilns.
In Thailand, antique snuff bottles are remnants of trade and cultural exchange between Siam and China. The oldest known Thai snuff bottles were glazed ceramics from the Ayutthaya period, indicating the historical connections between Siam and China through trade. These exquisite snuff bottles, crafted from materials like Nephrite Jade and Quarts, featured intricate relief work, glazed ceramics and underglaze colors, reflecting the value of these artistic treasures. The snuff bottles are now cherished relics of the past, bearing the imprints of history for modern collectors. These small heirlooms featured in this Timed Auction are exquisite specimens, each a testament to craftsmanship and a piece of art with a rich history, reflecting the magnificence of their time.
RCB Auctions invites you to preview the enchanting collection of antiques and decorative items on the catalog of our ongoing Antiques and Decorative Arts Timed Auction, which will be wrapping up on 4th November (12.30 PM Bangkok time).