This masterpiece of Chinese enameling probably dates from the mid-reign. It still follows the general style of the first fifteen years of Palace enameling of the Qianlong period, with its exquisitely painted design in relatively thin enamels, but the characteristic painterly style has become a little broader, and the decorative borders have become more simplified. The iron red design on a yellow band which encircle the neck are also typical of the mid-reign. It is one of a very small group of superbly painted enameled glass bottles decorated with bird-and-flower subjects which appear to be by the same team of Court artists (designers and enamelers). Compare a bottle in the Palace Museum, Beijing, included in Snuff Bottles. The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Hong Kong, 2003, no. 9. See also D. Low, More Treasures from the Sanctum of Enlightened Respect, no. 12, for another very similar bottle painted with a pair of orioles, also dated to the mid-Qianlong period.
Of the two main Imperial painted-enamel arts (on glass and on metal), those on glass are very much rarer. A rough estimate of the total number of enameled glass snuff bottles produced during the Qianlong reign comes to about three hundred. The limited quantity was due to the medium, which was much harder to control successfully during the multiple firings required to add the various different colours and build a sufficient thickness of enamel, resulting in a much higher failure. Some of the enamel colors show pitting until the end of the Qianlong reign, and nearly all early examples exhibit some minor firing flaws. It was probably for this reason that the records indicate that the emperor very rarely distributed enameled glass wares as gifts, preferring to keep them in the Imperial collection, while gifts of enameled metal wares were more frequent. The same enamelers worked on glass, metal and ceramics. The process of painting by mixing finely powdered glass with a liquid medium and firing at low temperatures was the same for all three media, and the materials, kilns and workshops were probably shared. Subjects were repeated freely across the media, although very rarely compositions, which were designed, particularly in the early years until the latter part of the Qianlong reign. This bottle is closely related to another bottle from the J & J Collection, enameled with pheasants and peonies on a copper body, and illustrated by Moss, Graham and Tsang, in The Art of the Chinese Snuff Bottle. The J & J Collection, no. 177; as well as to no. 187, another enameled glass snuff bottle painted with a continuous design of a kingfisher on a branch.
The charming subject of the bottle here derives from the Chinese painting tradition of birds and flowers. It is one of the rare examples of the eighteenth century where there is no visible indication of Jesuit influence in the design, with the Chinese-style lappet border replacing the European-influenced, rococo borders found on the two examples from the J & J Collection.