SEAL MARK AND PERIOD OF QIANLONG
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robustly potted with an ovoid body rising to a tall waisted neck and a flared mouth cupped at the rim, boldly enamelled in vibrant colours against a turquoise ground with the bajixiang ('Eight Buddhist Emblems') beribboned and arranged around the body, interspersed with scattered sprigs of lotus and hibiscus, the neck similarly decorated with a lotus meander above upright plantain leaves collaring the the neck, further flanked by a pair of iron-red ruyi sceptre handles, all supported on a tall flared foot encircled with interlinked stylised acanthus leaves and a keyfret border, with details all picked-out in gilt and the interior and the underside glazed turquoise, the base inscribed in gilt with a six-character reign mark
Collection of Lord Loch of Drylaw (1827-1900) (?).
Collection of Alfred Morrison (1821-1897), Fonthill House, Tisbury, Wiltshire.
The Rt. Hon The Lord Margadale of Islay, T.D.
Christie's London, 18th October 1971, lot 82.
Jen Chai Art Gallery, New York, no. A532 (one of the gallery labels of J.T. Tai & Co.).
The Qianlong Emperor was particularly fond of cloisonné work which he revived on a grand scale after it having been out of favour under the Yongzheng Emperor. He had it imitated not only in enamel-painted porcelain, like seen on the present vase, but even in enamel-painted copper, where the wires separating the cloisons of different enamels on cloisonné prototypes were reproduced by finely painted golden lines.
While in its colour scheme the present vase imitates cloisonné metalwork, stylistically it stands in the plain tradition of yangcai porcelain with its dense overall floral designs on a coloured ground. Unusual here is the irregular pattern whose admirable organization nevertheless conveys the impression of a formally organized design. It is composed of asymmetric flower sprays, which are loosely strewn all over the body, but so evenly spaced over the surface that any clusters or gaps are avoided. The thin golden outlines confining the vibrant enamels are a brilliant means to make the colours stand out against the turquoise ground.
The appearance of ruyi sceptres as handles on vases was clearly a response to the Qianlong Emperor's infatuation with these portents of good fortune, which during his reign were produced by the thousands in all possible materials. Although ruyi sceptres as well as the bajixiang included in the decoration were originally symbols with Buddhist connotation, by the Qianlong period they had become general auspicious emblems and can even be found in combination with Daoist symbols.
Compare three related vases in the Palace Museum, Beijing, from the Qing court collection: one of gourd shape without handles, similarly decorated with loosely strewn flower sprays in cloisonné style, but lacking the bajixiang and bearing a red seal mark; another of simpler bottle form with different handles, decorated with flower scrolls in cloisonné style and bearing a similar mark in gold; and a third with similar ruyi handles but decorated with flower scrolls without golden outlines on a turquoise ground, all illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Porcelains with Cloisonné Enamel Decoration and Famille-Rose Decoration, Hong Kong, 1999, pls 115, 119 and 118.
The piece is vaguely reminiscent of a cloisonné vase from the Qing court collection and still in Beijing, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Metal-bodied Enamel Ware, Hong Kong, 2002, pl. 167, which may, however, postdate the present piece. For vases decorated in this cloisonné style but in painted enamel, also in the Palace Museum, Beijing, from the Qing court collection, see ibid., pls 214 and 244, and a detail p.179.
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