Object of the Day: A Triple Auspicious Snuff Bottle

Snuff bottle, with fish and lotus ornamentation, single red overlay on transparent glass, Qing dynasty, ca. 1750-1820. H: 6.5 cm; L: 5.5 cm.

The object of focus today is this gorgeous snuff bottle with red overlay which dates to the early 19th century in Qing dynasty China. Snuff bottles were carried by the owner at all times, who often take great care in choosing those that suit his personal taste as well as to convey the message encoded in the decoration. The making of these little objects of art provided craftsmen with the perfect opportunity to test their skills by producing ornamentation that was out of the ordinary.

The present snuff bottle is decorated with the rather unusual motif of a carp wrapped in a lotus leaf. The carp and lotus plant are two of the most auspicious symbols in Chinese art, with the carp and goldfish symbolizing bountiful wealth, and the lotus plant symbolizing moral purity. The present object is also a clever pun on the Chinese word for lotus (lian) which sounds like another Chinese word for “continual”. The conjunction of lotus and carp therefore convey the message that there will be abundance year after year.  Finally, the use of a red overlay (red being an auspicious color to the Chinese) augments the symbolic power of this little object. 

Detail of the above snuff bottle.

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