The scene continues around the whole vase as if on a handscroll, depicting a wild forest and mountain scene that is occupied by a number of stags and deer of different species. The design carry a highly auspicious message, as the characters for deer and good fortune (lu) are homophonous and because the deer, pine and peach trees depicted are all symbols of longevity.
This deer vase illustrates the Qianlong Emperor’s restoration of the practice of regular training hunts outside Beijing that had been introduced by his grandfather, the Kangxi Emperor (r. 1662-1722). Apparently from the third year of Qianlong’s reign, he organised regular hunts in the imperial hunting preserve at Mulan near Chengde in Rehe (Jehol), northeast of Beijing, whose wooded hills were renowned for their abundance of deer. He favoured spending the summer months at Mulan so much that it became similar to a temporary summer capital, where he frequently received envoys in the imperial yellow yurt.
Court painters were regularly ordered to Mulan to record the imperial hunts in these enchanting hills in paintings, and it is precisely this scenery that seems to be depicted on ‘hundred deer’ vases such as the present. Several paintings of the hunting genre are known from the Italian Jesuit court painter Giuseppe Castiglione (Lang Shining, 1688-1766), such as Deer Hunting Patrol, The Qianlong Emperor Chasing Deer, or The Qianlong Emperor on a Hunting Trip. His intricately composed, lively depictions of animals in idealised landscapes, rendered in a naturalistic and precise, academic painting style, clearly influenced the porcelain painters who enamelled these vases.
According to historical records, vases of this type were made in the first years of Qianlong and may have been designed to coincide with the reinstitution of the imperial hunt. Liao Pao Show quotes an entry in the Huo Ji Dang, which contains records of work commissioned for the Qing imperial family through the Construction Office of the Yang Xin Dian, also dated to the third year of the Qianlong reign (1738), sixth month, mentioning a yangcai ‘hundred fortunes’ vase with double handles, with an order to the effect that a vase should be made to the same design, but without handles; see Huali cai ci: Qianlong yangcai/Stunning Decorative Porcelains from the Ch’ien-lung Reign, Taipei, 2008, pl. 51, where Liao illustrates a pair of ‘hundred deer’ vases with blue handles in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, attributing them to the third year of the Qianlong reign (1738), describing the design as ‘hundred fortunes’ décor and stating that the deer are depicted in different postures, “frolicking, standing, running, eating, and drinking”.
The version without handles may, however, not have only been a trial that was not followed up, as only one such vase without handles appears to be recorded, in the Seikado Bunko Art Museum, Tokyo, illustrated in the exhibition catalogue Seikadō zō Shinchō tōji. Keitokuchin kanyō no bi [Qing dynasty porcelain collected in the Seikado. Beauty of Jingdezhen imperial kilns], Seikado Bunko Art Museum, Tokyo, 2006, p. 69, no. 59, together with a ‘hundred deer’ vase with blue handles, p. 68, no. 58.
‘Hundred deer’, or ‘hundred fortunes’, vases are more typically known with red-enamelled handles, like the present piece. A vase of this design in the Shanghai Museum is illustrated in Zhongguo taoci quanji [Complete series on Chinese ceramics], Shanghai, 1999, vol. 15, pl. 17 and on the dust jacket; one, from the Qing court collection and still in Beijing, is published in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Porcelains with Cloisonne Enamel Decoration and Famille Rose Decoration, Hong Kong, 1999, pl. 85; another, from the Grandidier Collection in the Musée Guimet, Paris, is illustrated in Oriental Ceramics. The World’s Great Collections, vol. 7, Tokyo, 1981, no. 190; a vase from the collection of Stevenson Burke was sold in these rooms, 8th May 1980, lot 248, included in the exhibition 100 Masterpieces of Imperial Chinese Ceramics from the Au Bak Ling Collection, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1998; and a fifth example was sold in our New York rooms, 16th March 2016, lot 321. A vase of this type but with handles covered in blue enamel, also in the Palace Museum, Beijing, is illustrated in Kangxi, Yongzheng, Qianlong. Qing Porcelain from the Palace Museum Collection, Hong Kong, 1989, p. 338, pl. 19.
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