Among some of the finest of all Imperial snuff bottles of the Qianlong reign are those made in pairs or sets of two identical bottles. This is the mate to one from the Pat Miller and Raymond Bushell Collections, now in the Denis Low collection, illustrated by R. Kleiner, Treasures from the Sanctum of Enlightened Respect, pp. 2-3, no. 1. Of identical size and construction, the palette and superb control of the brushwork, particularly in the shading of the flowing robes and the depiction of the figures' faces, suggest that they can only have been made as a pair, and produced by the same team of designers and enamelers.
This bottle is a masterpiece among the superlative Imperial enamel bottles that epitomize the talent and technical achievement of the finest artisans of the Palace workshops. A tour de force of the decorator's art, this bottle required first some relatively complex metalwork to create the extremely rare form, and then a team of designers and enamelers of great skill and patience. Apart from the extraordinary quality of the main panels, the floral designs of the surrounding facets are both unusual, artistically varied and of extremely well painted. Another indication of the high quality of this set is found in the exquisite mille fleurs design around the neck. This superbly painted series of flowers on a white ground appears on a few of the finest of enamels from the early reign. Among the flowers depicted the artist has rendered in great detail peonies of several kinds, lotus, chrysanthemums, magnolias, roses, hibiscus, lilies, asters, begonias, narcissus, convolvulus, cymbidium orchids, camellias, dianthus and jasmine. For another exquisite Imperial snuff bottle with mille fleurs borders and a note on this decorative motif see lot 295.
The European figures reflect the interest of the Qianlong Emperor in European subjects, which his immediate predecessors disdained, and in this example we see the artistic response to the newly introduced subject matter in the hands of the artists of the Palace workshops at their height.
The faceted form of the present bottle is well-known among wares produced at the Imperial workshops at Beijing. Faceted glass derives from European models and techniques available to the Beijing Palace glassworks after they were set up in 1696 under the directorship of the Jesuit missionary Kilian Stumpf. Bohemian glass of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is known for its faceting, and similarities with early Palace workshop production suggest a clear connection. Another source may be found in the cases of European watches that exerted considerable influence on early Qing Court enameling.
Enameled glass snuff bottles of similar shape to the present bottle include one from the J & J Collection sold in these rooms, 30 March 2005, lot 50; and two in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in Snuff Bottles, The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, nos. 14 and 16.