The inscription at the back may be translated as follow:
'In the early summer (fourth month) of the sixth year of Jing Guan (corresponding to 633), the emperor avoided the summer heat and resided at the Jiu Cheng Palace. This palace was originally known as the Ren Shou Palace in the Sui dynasty. It was constructed atop a mountain, and the valley below it was blocked to form a lake. Ma Shaoxuan.'
The inscription is taken from Jiu Cheng Gong Li Quan Ming (The Sweet Spring of Jiu Cheng Palace), an essay inscribed on a Tang dynasty stone stele. The essay was composed by Wen Hui (580-643), a renowned politician and historian at the time.
Ma Shaoxuan (1867-1939) was one of the most technically accomplished artists of the Beijing school of snuff-bottle painting, which was founded by Zhou Leyuan and included other leading artists, such as Ding Erzhong, Ye Zhongsan and Ziyizi.
Ma liked to paint 'Pictures of Antiquities' (Bogu tu) and 'Pictures of Longevity' (Baisui tu). The former illustrates a collection of antique vessels, tiles, calligraphic specimens, paintings, books, and correspondence. The latter depicts a collage of damaged objects. The fragmentary (sui) state of these numerous (bai) burnt, broken, rotten, or torn objects calls to mind a homonym meaning 'year.' Thus, the image of a number of broken (Baisui) objects actually constitutes a rebus having the auspicious meaning of wishing someone might enjoy a long life.
See another bottle from Ma Shaoxuan showing the same decoration and illustrated in the Catalogue Chinese Snuff Bottles. A Miniature Art from the collection of Mary and George Bloch, Hong Kong, 18 March - 8 June 1994, pl.337.
Another one from the Holden collection was sold in our New York Rooms, 21 March 2000, lot 55.