The town of Suzhou, famous for its gardens and canals, was one of the main cultural centers in China, attracting painters, calligraphers, poets, musicians and other talented individuals. Their pursuits comprise the main subject matter of the group of acclaimed snuff bottles intricately carved from agate and jade in a style unique to at least one workshop in the town, associated with the eighteenth century master who occasionally signed his wares Zhiting.
Although the shape of this bottle and the presence of a footrim are two features more commonly associated with the Official school, the style of the low-relief carving, in particular, the convoluted, pierced rockwork, is similar to those found on other Suzhou agate snuff bottles of the Zhiting School that replicate the rocks in local gardens (see Moss, Graham and Tsang, A Treasury of Chinese Snuff Bottles, Vol. 2, Quartz, nos. 377 and 378). The imaginative use of patches of color and translucent tones of brown to depict the bird and foliage are typical of the Zhiting School, as are the serrated rocks and the band of clouds at the neck (see Moss, Graham and Tsang, ibid., nos. 371, 374 and 377). See also, B. Stevens, A Collector's Book of Chinese Snuff Bottles, no. 572, for another example of similar carved rocks, and no. 575 for a similar carving of a bird; and C. Lawrence, Miniature Masterpieces from the Middle Kingdom. The Monimar Collection of Chinese Snuff Bottles, pp. 134-35, no. 61.
See another carved agate snuff bottle ascribed to the Suzhou school also of atypical globular form and set on a footrim, in Moss, Graham and Tsang, The Art of the Chinese Snuff Bottle. The J & J Collection, no. 142. Compare other Suzhou bottles of atypical form in H. Moss, Chinese Snuff Bottles of the Silica or Quartz Group, nos. 178, 179 and 188.
The inscription is taken from a couplet purportedly composed at a banquet by the Tang poet Su Xun (1009-1066), the father of Su Dongpo.