Tuesday, 3 September 2019

From the History of Glass: Chinese Glass Snuff Boxes and the European “Revolution”


Since about the X-XI centuries, the fascination with colored glass in China began to decline, but the technology of local glass production continued to improve. At the same time, the casting technique continued to dominate, although already in the Tang era (618-907), craftsmen mastered the method of producing blown glass.
Chinese Biyanhu Snuff Box
Chinese Biyanhu Snuff Box

Glass production underwent the most dramatic change at the turn of the 17th – 18th centuries when in 1696 Emperor Kansi-si (1662–1722) established a court workshop, responsible for glass production, in Beijing. The result was a “revolution” related to the perception of European experience instilled in the Chinese masters by Western Jesuit missionaries who were curators of the palace glass workshops. Until the middle of the XVIII century, only small glass objects (for example, biyanhu snuff-boxes) were produced at the court, the quantity of which was very limited. So, in the Beijing Gugong Museum, only one thing from the glass with the Kansi brand is stored, twelve with the Yong-zheng brands (1723-1735) and hundreds of glassware with the Qian-lung marks (1736-1795). In content and composition, brands on the glass are close to brands on modern to them enamels on metal and porcelain.

Glazed Horseshoe - New Hotel in China
Glazed Horseshoe - New Hotel in China

It is known that during the Qian-lung years, glass production in China reached previously unprecedented heights, although, according to experts, only about 60 marked things of this period do not raise doubts about authenticity. Among glass products for household and ritual purposes (chalices, plates, as well as vases, incense burners and candle holders included in altar sets), works of multilayer colored glass with embossed carvings, or things made of frosted or transparent monochrome glass (amber-yellow, blue, turquoise or green color of celadon shade). In multilayer colored glass, high relief was common, while in monochrome, very low (“shadow”) relief and fine engraving were used, which during this period could be done with a special wheel cutter or a diamond needle.

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