The World in a Bottle in the World

5 the satisfactions of the traditional scholarly arts and, with the addition of a name or a seal here and there, the satisfactions of recording the identities of the principals involved: the artist, patron and recipient, or some subset of these. By the mid-Qing, long-established class and social divisions were rapidly dissolving in favor of groups based upon common aspiration. The common aspiration of the new elite patrons of the snuff bottle was cultural, based not only upon education in the long-accepted manner, providing access to the imperial examination system and to service at court, but upon a common understanding of the ancient culture. Whether merchant, scholar or, in rare cases, craftsman, those who were broadly cultured and able to contribute in a world of ancient texts, collecting and art appreciation found doors open to them among the urban elite. Cultural achievement became social grease and a common aspiration. By the mid-Qing and increasingly into the late Qing, to be a merchant or even a craftsman no longer necessarily carried the traditional social stigma. The defining qualification for membership was education, rather than imperial or official status (although these were never excluded), and this fostered a new fashion in the snuff bottle arts. The new patrons turned to displaying both their cultural achievements and their interrelationships directly on the snuff bottles that were common to them all. This in turn encouraged the use of materials previously considered of little interest, materials soft enough to allow the new patrons to decorate their own bottles and discreet or rustic enough to avoid ostentation. Upon these materials the more artistic among the new patrons carved subject matter to their own taste: ancient poetry, copies of old bronze and stone inscriptions, and a mass of other cultural references that set them apart and defined them. And, like the paintings and calligraphy that also defined this educated aesthetic elite, they added informative inscriptions to their art, including dedications, dates, signatures and seals, and places of origin or sojourn. They began to reveal themselves in the snuff bottle arts as the literati had traditionally revealed themselves through their painting and calligraphy. All these trends were visible, even well established, before the watershed of the Taiping Rebellion, but became dominant thereafter. During the second half of the Qing dynasty, this shift of patronage involved an ever-growing number of identifiable participants, and it is enough to focus on a few to demonstrate the trend. Some of those involved in this new trend in the snuff- bottle arts were artists themselves, producing their own bottles or at least decorating them. Others were artists who designed bottles, or ordered specific designs or types, but did not physically make them, forging a partnership with craftsmen to achieve a higher level of artistic expression, or at least of cultural input, than these craftsmen might achieve alone. Finally there were those who are recorded as the recipients. Although they must have generally had little to do with the making of the work of art, receiving it only as a gift from a friend or supplicant, their identification can shed a great deal of light on dating and on the social circles within which snuff bottles might be exchanged. Let us look first at a significant cultural figure of the mid-Qing, Chen Hongshou 陳鴻壽 (1768–1822), a native of Qiantang (Hangzhou), whose sobriquets include Mansheng 曼生 , Zhongyu xianke 種榆仙客 (Elm planter immortal guest) and Zhongyu daoren 種榆道人 (Elm planter man of the Way). He was a calligrapher, painter, seal carver, poet and official. He was also a crucial figure in the history of the art of Yixing pottery. During his three- year term as magistrate of Liyang 溧陽 (northwest of Yixing), he had an astonishing effect on Yixing potters, inspiring them to produce more scholarly wares and improve their art and encouraging the local literati to work together with the potters. He led from the front, so to speak, working closely with the potter Yang Pengnian 楊彭年 to create a range of teapot designs that continued in production long after he had died. During his lifetime he often inscribed these pots himself. Conflicting dates are given for Chen ’ s appointment at Liyang (when dates are given), but one source, whose level of detail suggests that it is based on primary sources of some kind, states that he arrived there the twenty-ninth day of the third month of Jiaqing 16 (April 21, 1811) and served five years before being redeployed to Huai ’ an in 1816. 1 The two surviving Yixing snuff bottles that bear Chen ’ s signature are of identical shape, both with a copy of the same inscription from an ancient bronze vessel, reflecting a typical nineteenth-century interest in epigraphy ( fig. 1 ). The ancient text reads Bo zuo baoyi 伯作寶彝 (Precious vessel made by Bo), the Fig. 1. Two Yixing snuff bottles that bear Chen Hongshou signature.