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whimsically designed, the cylindrical body exquisitely enamelled with a pair of fantastic phoenix adorned with lush blooms of peonies scattered on a rich turquoise ground, the birds with outstretched colourful wings and long tail with magnificent plumes, the side set with a gold arched spout rising from a mythical animal-head base, set opposite an archaistic C-shaped handle, further set with a pair of gold tweezers hinged with a foliate scrolls fitted into the side of the handle, the interior enamelled in turquoise, the underside inscribed with a four-character reign mark in blue on a white ground, the cover decorated with a pair of confronting butterflies on a lemon-yellow ground surrounded by flowers enclosed within a raised circular lip, bordered on the exterior with a flower and phoenix band on turquoise, the reverse fitted with a candle pricket rising from a pear-shaped vase inscribed with shou characters, supporting a small dish and a golden needle, the base with bats, lotus and shou characters on a lime-green ground enclosed within a raised gold lip
Drinking Tea by Candlelight: Emperor Yongzheng's Curio Teapot
By Hajni Elias
This exquisitely executed vessel in the form of a teapot with a cover also serving as a candle-holder is most unusual and only one similar example, possibly its pair, can be found in the collection of the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore (fig.1). The combination of a vessel being used as a teapot and a candleholder is original and surprising, making it a triumphant showcase or a curio 'plaything' rather than an object that was used on daily basis. It is therefore plausible to imagine that the pair of vessels was made for a special occasion such as the Moon Festival when lanterns lit by candles are carried around and family members gather together under the moonlight to enjoy each other's company while eating, drinking and celebrating. Tea would be brewing in the pots whilst the candles provided light creating a relaxing and pleasant ambiance.
The fine enamelling and exceptional quality of the teapot attests to it being the product of the Enamel Workshop that was in charge of producing cloisonné, champlevé and painted enamel wares on metal, glass and porcelain for the emperor and his family. Located in the Forbidden City, the workshops employed artists of the highest skills who manufactured daily wares as well as one-off, often unconventional, pieces that were frequently commissioned by the emperor himself. The technique of enamelling on metal was originally introduced to the Chinese craftsmen in the Guangzhou area by Jesuit missionaries around 1684. Being a port city, these artisans were the first to be exposed to wares from Europe and had mastered the technical skills necessary. The Kangxi Emperor recruited enamel artists from Guangzhou to work in the Palace, so that both the development and improvement of the standard of the Enamel Workshop was entirely dependent on the skills of these southern artists. By Yongzheng's reign the variety of painted enamel wares was significantly expanded, with the production of objects often made more to impress than to be used. An example of such an object is the stacked and string-joined pocket box, strongly influenced by Japanese box designs, illustrated in Enamel Ware in the Ming and Ch'ing Dynasties, Taipei, 1999, pl. 106; or the covered jar delicately painted with a sash motif as if the vessel is gift wrapped in sumptuous silk brocade as was customary at the time, ibid., pl. 108. A further evidence that the present vessel was made for the Palace is the use of gold for the body, spout, handle and candle pricket. In fact the very high level of gold content found in the spout, handle and candle pricket suggest that the teapot was undoubtedly made for a special occasion.
Enamelled teapots of related form to the present piece are known with tall loop handles, such as the vessel with gilt dragon-head spout and painted with four panels of landscapes in sepia with inscriptions, attributed to the 18th century, illustrated in Michael Gillingham, Chinese Painted Enamels, Oxford, 1978, pl. 40. Teapots of this type were inspired by Western forms and were generally made for the export market. For further examples of Western influenced teapots see one painted with flowers and butterflies, with similar gilded spout and handle as the present vessel, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Metal-bodied Enamel Ware, Hong Kong, 2002, pl. 186, together with a pot painted with shou characters, pl. 187. Compare also a pot resembling that used for drinking hot chocolate in the West published in Enamel Ware in the Ming and Ch'ing Dynasties, op. cit., pl. 100; and another similar example sold in these rooms 20th November 1984, lot 530.
The phoenix decoration on this pot is recognizable from earlier, Kangxi period vessels; see a Beijing enamel dish decorated with phoenix published ibid., pl. 94, in the collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei. A related motif appears also on a slightly later, Qianlong period, yellow-ground glass pouch-form vase, reputedly from the collection of Prince Gong Yixin and later in the collections of A.W. Bahr and Paul and Helen Bernat, sold in these rooms, 15th November 1988, lot 75, and again, 29th October 2000, lot 2. The phoenix-and-peony pattern in famille-rose enamels can also be seen on a pair of Qianlong covered baluster vases offered in these rooms, 10th April 2006, lot 1543; and on another Qianlong vase illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Porcelains with Cloisonné Enamel Decoration and Famille-rose Decoration, Hong Kong, 1999, pl. 95, with the design rendered in a more stylized fashion.
The butterfly motif painted on the cover is familiar from Yongzheng 'butterfly' bowls where the insects are depicted in medallions with flowers. See a Yongzheng mark and period 'butterfly' bowl included ibid., pl. 68; and another, from the T.Y. Chao collection, sold in these rooms 18th November 1986, lot 132. However, the inspiration for the butterfly design on the present cover is possibly derived from an enamelled flower-form dish of the Kangxi period, decorated with passionflowers and double butterflies, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Metal-bodied Enamel Ware, op.cit., pl. 181 (fig. 2). Further compare the side panels on a Yongzheng mark and period tiered box and cover, sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 27th October 2003, lot 728, bearing butterflies in myriad colours amongst peony flowers on a light-pink ground.
The candle-holder itself is reminiscent of an imperial gilt-bronze, white jade and Beijing enamel decorated candle-holder sold in our New York rooms, 22nd March 1995 lot 22. For examples of enamelled candle-holders see a pair painted on a turquoise ground, bearing a four-character Yongzheng reign mark and of the period, from the British Rail Pension Fund and on loan exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, sold in these rooms, 16th May 1989, lot 93, and again at Christie's Hong Kong, 29/30th October 2001, lot 645.
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