In 1767, the Jian Yuan was completed in the Changchun Yuan complex (a series of Imperial gardens to the West of Beijing adjoining the Yuanming Yuan, known collectively as the Summer Palace). One of the halls within the Jian Yuan was the Guyue Xuan (Ancient Moon Pavilion). The Changchun Yuan was intended as a retirement home for the Qianlong Emperor, although he never took up full-time residence there. The Guyue Xuan was completed in 1767 prompting the Emperor to order a group of wares, mostly enamels on glass, bearing the name of that particular pavilion. Hugh Moss dealt with these intriguing mid-reign enamels and their evolution in "Mysteries of the Ancient Moon", JICSBS, Spring 2006. The Court apparently had insufficient enamellers to meet the new demand, prompting the introduction of new enamellers at the Court and the ordering of enameled ware for the Court from distant centers, including probably Yangzhou.
This bottle is one of the finest examples of the classic Guyue Xuan carved-relief type. After the initial period of development of the Guyue Xuan style, which evolved from the earlier Qianlong Palace workshops style, there followed a period of masterly works, confidently painted with a range of decorative subjects with the enamels under unusual technical control. These occur either in single-plane examples, enameled on the flat surface of the bottle, or in double-plane examples where the glass is carved in relief first and the enamels decorate the relief areas and complete the design with some surface painting. The carved group most probably evolved from the single-plane group. The classic wares probably developed at some time in the 1770s and continued until the Emperor's death in 1799. Another common feature of top-quality relief Guyue Xuan works is that they have mostly dispensed with neck borders, allowing for more obvious incorporation of white space into the design. By discarding with the borders and panels around the main subjects, the design became all the more powerful.
The carved-relief examples provide evidence of the close link between the Guyue Xuan enameled wares and the Palace Workshops, for they required close co-operation with an established, highly-skilled glassworks and carving facility. As a rule the double-plane wares have the main design carved in relief but it is completed with painting on the flat ground; the relief chrysanthemum heads on this bottle, for example, are completed by stems and leaves on the flat ground.
A bottle with almost identical decoration, and with its original dish, is illustrated by R. Kleiner, Chinese Snuff Bottles. The White Wings Collection, pp. 64-5, pl. 45. See two very similar bottles: one in the collection of the Marquess of Exeter illustrated by H. Moss, Chinese Snuff Bottles No. 6, E. 1; and another illustrated by R. Kleiner, Chinese Snuff Bottles from the Burghley House Collection, Stamford, England, no. 56. Other related wares are in Moss, Graham, Tsang, The Art of the Chinese Snuff Bottle. The J & J Collection, no. 202; and another in the collection of Denis Low, illustrated in More Treasures from the Sanctum of Enlightened Respect, p. 17, no. 14.
The matching snuff dish is one of the group of early dishes which can be dated to the second half of the Qianlong reign.
The combination of pairs of quails (an) and chrysanthemums (juhua) stand for anju leye ("May you dwell in peace and enjoy your career") (see Terese Tse Bartholomew, "A Few Interesting Botanical Themes", JICSBS, Spring 2004, p. 9), while the bats on the reverse of the snuff dish represent blessings.