Realgar-glass is assumed to have been developed at the Imperial glassworks during the Kangxi period, when production was under the directorship of Kilian Stumpf and his fellow Jesuits, who set up the glassworks for the Emperor in 1696. Moss, Graham, Tsang, in A Treasury of Chinese Snuff Bottles, Vol. 5, Glass, no. 703, refer to a set of ten realgar-glass cups in Denmark that were purchased in Guangzhou and brought back to Europe aboard the Kronprins Christian in 1732 (for the cups illustrated, see Ethnographic Objects in The Royal Danish Kunstkammer 1650-1800, Nationalmuseet, nos. Ebc 71-82, p. 218). Several pieces of realgar-glass were bequeathed by Sir Hans Sloane to the British Museum in 1753 (see JICSBS, Summer 1998, p. 14, fig. 33; and R. Soame Jenyns, Chinese Art. The Minor Arts II, p. 145, no. 81). A realgar-glass waterpot with Yongzheng mark from the Imperial Collection, Beijing, is published by Yang Boda, "A Brief Account of Qing Dynasty Glass," in C. Brown and D. Rabiner, The Robert H. Clague Collection. Chinese Glass of the Qing Dynasty, 1644-1911, Phoenix Art Museum, 1987, p. 78. For another realgar-glass snuff bottle datable to 1696-1750, see Moss, Graham, Tsang, A Treasury of Chinese Snuff Bottles, Vol. 5, Glass, no. 705.
Plain realgar glass snuff bottles were made in large numbers throughout the eighteenth century, a large proportion of which were apparently produced at the court to be distributed as gifts. By the mid-Qing period, there must have been many in circulation, and it began to occur to carvers to decorate them, since in most cases they were uncarved overlays, often with a surface layer of brighter color. For other examples of carved realgar-glass snuff bottles, see M. Hughes, The Blair Bequest. Chinese Snuff Bottles from the Princeton University Art Museum, no. 185 (carved with chrysanthemums and prunus); R. Kleiner, Chinese Snuff Bottles from the Collection of Mary and George Bloch, no. 109 (carved with pomegranate and melons) and one sold in our Hong Kong rooms, The Louise and Christopher Randall Collection, 31 October 1995, lot 1845.
The subject on this bottle was a popular Court motif. It also appears on Qianlong Imperial molded porcelain snuff bottles made at Jingdezhen. See lot 39 for a Japanese lacquer bottle with a similar motif.
While it is unusual that there are only seven lions instead of the more conventional nine, odd numbers were generally considered more auspicious than even ones. The stopper here, which is too small, cannot have been the original, but surviving realgar-glass stoppers are extremely rare and at some time in the past it was decided that a matching stopper of the wrong size was preferable to a contrasting one of the correct size.