An Overview of Qing Glass

15 after the departure of the last Jesuit glassmaker and the decline in glassmaking skills that Yang Boda associates with the loss of their assistance. Highly skilled lapidaries remained at the court carving both glass and hardstones well into the Daoguang period. While making exclamatory comments, it is worth mentioning one other drawback of past glass scholarship. Most scholars have ignored the evidence of snuff bottles. The records suggest that snuff bottles constituted the greater part of overall production at the court between 1696 and the mid-nineteenth century, a ratio confirmed by the fact that today there are far more snuff bottles known than all other wares put together. Snuff bottles are also more frequently signed and dated than other forms, often spectacularly illuminating the broader picture. Glass researchers ignore snuff bottles at their peril. 1696–1735 Reign-marked Kangxi glass is extremely rare, although it is evident that an enormous quantity of glass was produced at the Imperial glassworks in the twenty-six years between late 1696 and 1722. It may be that a great deal of the earlier part of this production was of rather European style and did not, therefore, attract the typical Chinese reign mark. It is also likely that part of the capacity of the glassworks would have been taken up by the manufacture of either architectural, or optical glass. One of the reasons for establishing a glassworks at court was to produce a wide range of optical devices, another was to provide the rapidly expanding, early Qing court with such articles as chandeliers, which could be enormous projects (the two that displeased the Emperor in 1770 took nine months to complete and incorporated five hundred and twelve fluted glass rods). One of the very few known Kangxi marked glass objects is, fortunately for us, a snuff bottle ( fig. 2 ). Of simple form, with a raised circular panel on each side (possibly intended to act as integral snuff dishes), it has a very rare two- character Kangxi mark giving just the reign title. Although this is not a common form, it is not unknown and a range of Kangxi and Yongzheng arts produced at the Imperial Workshops reveal wide experimentation with forms and colors of reign marks. While it is possible as an early example from the glassworks with this two- character mark, any later glass forger would almost certainly have been ignorant of the possibility and used a standard four-character mark and, probably, Kangxi yuzhi [By Imperial Command of the Kangxi Emperor]. In any case, the possibility of it being a later forgery seems precluded by the diamond-point engraving, which was introduced as an art by the Jesuits to the Imperial glassworks at their inception, by the style of engraving, and by the state of the transparent sapphire-blue glass, which is both crizzled and degraded. Crizzling was standard for early glass of this color, occurring in all pieces currently attributed to the Kangxi period and many from the Yongzheng reign, but here may have been aggravated by subsequent burial. This likelihood probably accounts for its survival. Many snuff bottles were buried with their owners. Recent excavations in China to expand cities and build high-rises to replace compounds of private housing have turned up a good many snuff bottles, particularly in glass, where the degradation of the surface and iridescence from long contact with damp make them distinctive. It need not, of course, have been buried in the Kangxi period. It could have survived generations above ground before accompanying its then owner to the afterlife although not, as he probably hoped, for eternity in this particular case. Fig. 2. Blue glass bottle with raised circular panel on each side, two-character Kangxi mark on the base.