Rare Chinese tortoiseshell and porcelain Snuff Box and Cover, with gilt mounts, Qianlong Period (1735-96)


Made for the European market in around 1765, this snuff box has a porcelain cover finely painted in famille rose colours with a family in a garden. To the left of the scene is a gnarled leafy tree, upon the branches of which perch two birds. A mandarin, recognisable by his clothing, stands before a well-dressed lady wearing pale blue and pink robes. She holds a fan in her right hand and a piece of pink silk in her left. A playful child appears from behind the lady. To the right is a table on which tea has been prepared beside a green vase containing an arrangement of flowers. A red fence can be seen beyond. This detailed scene is repeated on the inside of the cover, and in both cases, a thin line of red enamel and gilt forms a narrow border.

The sides of the tortoiseshell box are beautifully decorated with a raised design depicting stylised flowers in ornamental pots, and plain cartouches flanked by foliate designs. The base is decorated with a central flowerlike motif with radiating lines. Surrounding this are four small cartouches, one in each corner, divided by spearlike, foliate designs. The shell itself is of an attractive colour, the decoration raised above an intricately hatched ground. Hinged gilt metal mounts.

Snuff boxes are rare in Chinese porcelain, with snuff bottles being the standard vessel form in China. A hinged box such as this, made from the luxurious materials of porcelain and exotic tortoiseshell, may have sat within the pocket of a gentleman, until it was produced in company with a flourish, whenever he wished to take or offer a pinch of snuff. Women were also avid snuff-takers, and this box would certainly have looked at home in a well-appointed boudoir, furnished with Chinese and European porcelain and bibelots.

Condition: The painted porcelain cover and tortoiseshell are particularly attractive. The hinged cover opens and closes neatly. A small section of the porcelain cover has at some point been broken across and repaired with two tiny staples. These have subsequently been removed and the break invisibly repaired, with very little sign of overpainting to the central scene. Slithers of tortoiseshell surrounding the porcelain insert also appear to have been re-stuck during this intervention. The tips of the top left and right corners of the porcelain cover have been repaired, with only a minute area of repainting to the thin red line of the border. There is some wear to the gilt line of the border, and also to the gilt metal mounts from use.

Dimensions: Length (across the base) 7.5 cm; width 5.5 cm; Length (across the cover)7.7 cm; width 6 cm; Height 3.3 cm

Snuff Boxes, Kenneth Blakemore (Frederick Muller Limited, 1976).

Chinese Export Ceramics, Rose Kerr, Luisa E. Mengoni, and Ming Wilson (V&A Publishing, 2011).


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