This bottle is the only known gilt-bronze snuff bottle inset with enameled glass panels of the Guyue Xuan group. The inset panels on the bottle are painted in a style attributable to the Palace workshops in the 1770s or 1780s and may be compared to bottles in other materials with Guyue Xuan marks, including one formerly from the Meriem Collection, sold in these rooms, 19 September 2007, lot 680. See the note to lot 213 for details of the Guyue Xuan.
There are other unmarked gilt-bronze bottles inset with European-subject enamel panels, but they are of enameled metal not glass and usually made from imported European panels. One is illustrated in R. Kleiner, Chinese Snuff Bottles. A Miniature Art from the Collection of Mary and George Bloch, no. 11; another is from the Baur Collection with very similar relief decoration on the shoulders, narrow sides and stopper, illustrated in B. Stevens, The Collector's Book of Chinese Snuff Bottles, no. 987. In each case, whether the panels are imported enameled metal, or in this unique case, Guyue Xuan enameled glass, the metal bodies were made at the Palace to accommodate the panels. All of this rare group of bottles have somewhat similar scrolling floral designs on the metalwork, and all are Palace products of the second half of the Qianlong reign.
It is possible that the panels on the present bottle may have once been part of a small vase in the suite of vessels made for the Guyue Xuan vases with four panels of this shape and size are recorded. See H. Moss, By Imperial Command. An Introduction to Ch'ing Imperial Painted Enamels, pls. 42 and 43 for examples of small Guyue Xuan-marked vases with prunus blossoms painted in a very similar style. Vases of this size in enameled glass were prone to failures in the firing of the enamels, and it remains a possibility that the panels, which had fired intact, were salvaged and made into a snuff bottle.
The deer (lu) is a pun on "emolument" or "official salary," and represents Luxing, the God of Rank and Emolument. It is also a symbol of longevity because it is believed to live for a long time and to be the only animal capable of searching out lingzhi fungus (another symbol of longevity). In Daoist mythology, the deer also frequently accompanies Shoulao, the God of Longevity. Two deer form the rebus lulu shunli (May everything go smoothly). The pheasant is one of the twelve symbols of sovereignty, while the peony represents the first rank among officials, and is closely associated with royalty because it was cultivated in the Imperial gardens of the Sui and Tang dynasties. It is also a symbol of wealth and honor.