Less than five centimetres in diameter, yet quite unique: a box made of imperial Chinese glass. This world heritage in miniature, which is frequently used in books and articles as an example of the earliest imperial Chinese glass, is one of the gems of Kunstmuseum Den Haag’s glass collection.
The core of the box is made of opaque white glass, in imitation of porcelain. Its exquisite decoration of ‘falangcai’, or ‘foreign colours’, was applied within the walls of the Forbidden City in Beijing. The blue mark of Emperor Kangxi (1654-1722) on the bottom is very special. It indicates that the box was made shortly after European glassmaking techniques were introduced to China. The decoration also reveals the unique status of the box, as yellow is the colour of the emperor in China.
Chinese glass is rare all over the word, as China does not have a culture of drinking glass like in Europe, where glass has been used to make drinking vessels since the Roman period. Modern methods of glass production were introduced to China by French Jesuits in the late seventeenth century, as part of an exchange of techniques and materials. At the request of Emperor Kangxi, who ruled from 1662 to 1722, they established the imperial glass workshop in the Forbidden City in 1696. Unlike in Europe at that time, the Chinese did not attempt to produce colourless, transparent glass. They used it mainly to imitate other more valuable materials, like agate, quartz, garnet, jade, marble and porcelain.
The experimental composition of the glass causes the surface of some objects to degrade as a result of exposure to air. These objects have a rough, matt appearance, which makes them look older than they actually are. The foot ring in the form of a thread of glass is still visible on the blue and yellow dishes. The ring base on later items, such as the red bowl, has been polished smooth, obscuring any trace of the production process.
Box | Kangxi imperial mark (1662-1722), period 1696-1722View object