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nei hua (内画)

Chinese. ‘Inside painting’, ‘inner drawing’ or ‘inner painting’. Name for a kind of traditional Chinese art in which illustrations and often Chinese calligraphy are hand-painted on the inside surface of a glass or crystal object (fig.), such as a vase (fig.), a flask or a sphere. The painting must be produced in reverse fashion by manipulating a specialized bamboo pen through an opening in the object, such as the neck of a flask, which is held upside-down. It requires both skill and patience, and each finished object is unique. Most paintings feature characters from Chinese folklore, religion and mythology, as well as Chinese landscapes (fig.) and animals, though also abstract forms are sometimes used. The art is today most commonly practiced on snuff bottles (fig.), small crystal flasks, that are usually flat in shape and that were formerly used in China to hold powdered tobacco. These painted snuff bottles are referred to as nei hua hu (内画壶), and are still produced today as replicas and souvenirs. Whereas the outside of the object is polished, the inside is made rough, in order to allow for it to be painted on. This is done by inserting a coarse metal ball and shaking the object until the sides are rutted enough.