The poetic inscription is excerpted from Tang dynasty poet Liu Yu Xi's "Lou Shi Ming" (Inscribed in My Humble Room), and can be translated as follows:
'It does not matter if a mountain is high; if immortals live there it shall become famous;
It does not matter if a lake is deep; if it has a current it will seem alive
Here I am in a humble room, but my virtues shall make it welcoming
The steps are covered with moss, the lush green colour of bamboo shines through the curtains
Talking and laughing students and scholars come and go incessantly
During the day one can pluck at his qin and read Jin scriptures
The fluttering sounds of bamboo take away the fatigue of reading through documents
Like Zhu Ges bungalow in Nanyang, or Xi Shu Zis Cloud Pavilion, as Confucius said, there is nothing unrefined [about these houses].'
This well-known scene of the two Qiao sisters, famous for their legendary beauty, is taken from the classic, Sanguo yanyi (Romance of the Three Kingdoms). For a discussion of this subject, see G. G. Laverlochere, 'Romance of the Three Kingdoms: Source of Snuff Bottle Subjects,' Journal, The International Chinese Snuff Bottle Society, Spring, 1988, pp.12-13.
The subject of the Qiao Sisters on inside-painted bottles was made popular by Ma Shaoxuan. During 1896 and 1897 he returned to the subject many times. For a full discussion of the subject see Ma Zengshan, Inside-Painted Snuff Bottle Artist Ma Shaoxuan (1867-1939), Maryland 1997, pp.32-35. For an example, see the bottle from the first part of the Swain collection, sold in these Rooms, 11 June 2008, lot 42.
Compare with another bottle from the Holden collection, painted by Gui Xianggu with the same subject and sold in our New York Rooms, 21 March 2000, lot 45.