Miniature Worlds is a display of 180 snuff bottles selected from the Museum’s permanent collection by Abigail Wang ’15, Janet Inskeep Benton ’79 Curatorial/Research Intern. The display is part of the Art in Dialogue series, which provides a forum for investigating the Museum’s permanent collection.
In craftsmanship and function, Chinese snuff bottles reflect international circuits of trade and cultural exchange, and speak to the mystery and intimacy of everyday objects. Snuff, fine-ground tobacco that is lightly inhaled into the nostril, originated in the Americas, became popular in Europe by the seventeenth century, and was soon after introduced to China by missionaries and merchants. The production and use of snuff bottles emerged as a symbol of social status, and bottles were customarily given as gifts to courtiers, family members, and acquaintances. The height of production was during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), and artisans used an astonishing range of materials, from glass and jade to bamboo and mother-of-pearl. Snuff bottles include several common motifs and themes; for example, different animals or landscapes allude to traditional tales or symbolize a variety of good tidings or wishes.