An Overview of Qing Glass

18 the surface of other colors of glass, initially sapphire blue. Whether or not the bottle in figure 9 is a Kangxi example is not so certain, but it is certainly early and represents the type. There must be other Kangxi plain glass bottles in our collections which remain unidentified, but two factors suggest they will not be plentiful: the much smaller number of bottles originally produced, and the attrition of time. The number of bottles produced annually for the court in the Qianlong period was far higher than that of the Kangxi period. There was a steady increase in demand from the mid-Kangxi period to the late eighteenth century, which began to level off during the first half of the nineteenth century but did not begin to decline until the second half. Part of this demand was fuelled by extensive collecting which became more and more fashionable among the elite as the eighteenth century progressed. From the records for 1725 we learn that only sixty-two glass snuff bottles were ordered at court for the entire year. 7 If this was a typical year, it would mean a little over seven-hundred bottles for the whole Yongzheng reign, whereas the Qianlong Emperor ordered five hundred in one go for distribution as gifts at just one of his palaces (Chengde), on one occasion in 1755. 8 There were many other orders in the same year. The second factor is time, which works against the long-term survival of all fragile objects. If we assume the risk of destruction or loss per decade to be reasonably constant and then compare a bottle from the first decade of the 1700s and one from the first decade of the 1800s, today the earlier bottle is fifty percent more likely to have succumbed to damage. These two factors alone suggest we should not expect to find any great quantity of Kangxi glass snuff bottles. The Kangxi archives of the Zaobanchu or Palace Workshops (which included the glassworks) are missing from Beijing, where the majority of research has been done into archival material over the past decade or two. Some if not all may be in Taipei, since snippets have appeared from these earlier records only from scholars with some connection to the National Palace Museum. In glass, therefore, there is very little published archival material prior to 1723. From the Yongzheng period onwards we can read brief descriptions of types of glass snuff bottles and other objects produced at the court, but as yet we are afforded no such luxury from the Kangxi period. This obscures the history of the early development of the art form and leaves open the question of when carved and cameo overlay glass first appears. The earliest published reference to cameo overlay carvings is from early in 1726 when a pair of “ overlay blue chi tiger snuff bottles were completed for the Emperor. ” 9 I suspect that a chi tiger is probably the same as a chi dragon since they appear to frequently on early glass snuff bottles and there is nothing that might be interpreted as a tiger. Glass was certainly carved during the Kangxi period and it is very likely that cameo overlays were produced during the latter part of the reign. If they were already making the standard blue overlay chi dragon overlays less than three years into the Yongzheng reign, it is likely that it was an art form inherited from the Kangxi period. Quite apart from this, however, the tradition of glassmaking in China going back to the Han dynasty was to carve or cast glass; blowing appears to have been the exception until the Qing dynasty. With the tradition of carving hardstones to make use of their different colors, including the skin of pebbles, lapidaries would immediately have been inspired to use different colors of glass to produce cameos. We know that cased or overlay glass was produced as early as the first month of 1708 from the record of a set of twelve cups made by Cheng Xianggui, a glassmaker co- opted to the Imperial glassworks from Guangdong province. 10 These were recorded as both overlay, or cased Fig. 10. Buried green cameo overlay bottle. Fig. 11. Cameo overlay realgar glass carved with two chi dragons, 1700–1740. Bloch Collection.