This superbly executed bottle belongs to a small, rare group of Imperial bamboo veneer bottles known to date from the Qianlong period. It is executed in a technique known as zhuhuang (literally, 'bamboo yellow', but meaning bamboo veneer). The technique involved stripping the interior surface of the bamboo cortex, soaking it and pressing it flat, and then applying it as a veneer to whatever was the base material of the object. A second layer was then carved and superimposed over the first layer. It was a time-consuming technique that required extraordinary technical skill, but it nonetheless allowed for the production of works far beyond the range of shapes and sizes possible of the natural bamboo stem and root.
The design of this bottle is a classic example of Qianlong archaism, with confronted kui dragons derived from Shang and Zhou dynasty bronze decoration and transformed into a bold contemporary design without losing any of it archaic resonance. This archaistic penchant is typical of the Palace workshops during the reign of the Qianlong Emperor. He was deeply conscious of his Manchu ancestry and well aware of lingering resentment in the eyes of the native Han Chinese he ruled, and as part of an ongoing attempt at public relations he embraced the ancient arts of China by collecting vast quantities of ancient bronzes, jades, ceramics and other wares, and by incorporating archaistic designs into contemporary works.
A small number of identical bottles have been published including one in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in Snuff Bottles, The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Volume 47 - Snuff Bottles, Hong Kong, 2003, p. 249, no. 383; an example from the J & J Collection illustrated by Moss et. al., The Art of the Chinese Snuff Bottle, Vol. II, New York, 1993 no. 272; and another, also formerly in the J & J Collection, now in the collection of George and Mary Bloch which was included in the exhibition Chinese Snuff Bottles, A Miniature Art from the Collection of George and Mary Bloch, Hong Kong Museum of Art, 1994, Catalogue, p. 333, no. 269.