The choice of decoration against the bright turquoise ground shows a notable emulation of early bronze ritual vessels, which is evident in the main and subsidiary taotie masks, the plantain blades and the kui phoenix encircling the trumpet neck, as well as the thin wires of leiwen motifs in the bright turquoise ground.
According to a record from the Zaobanchu Archives of the Qing Imperial Household Department, on the 25th day of the 11th month in the 39th year of the Qianlong reign, it was decreed that a cloisonné enamel ware was to be made for the Dongnuange (‘East Warm Pavilion’) in the Ningshougong (‘Palace of Tranquil Longevity'). A draft of a cloisonné enamel zun was presented on the same day to the eunuch for the Emperor’s inspection. The imperial decree was received that the draft was to be decorated for further inspection and a jade moonflask was to be replaced upon the production of the cloisonné enamel ware. On the 27th day of the month, upon submission of a decorated draft, the imperial decree was received that the zun was to be made following the draft with the plantain and kui-phoenix designs. On the 18th day of the 1st month of the 4th year, a cloisonné enamel zun and zitan stand were presented to the eunuch for the Emperor’s inspection and it was decreed that the gilt areas of the zun were to be re-gilt with the interior gilt.
Cloisonné enamel production was rigorously monitored during the Qianlong reign. It is notable that in the 33rd year of his reign, it was ordered that the gilding of cloisonné enamel wares was to be executed at least three times to further encapsulate the imperial splendour.
Only a small number of these vessels appears to be recorded. For a closely related Qianlong reign-marked example of the same size, similarly decorated with taotie masks, see The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Metal-bodied Enamel Ware, Hong Kong, 2002, no. 115. See another similar Qianlong marked vessel of a slightly larger proportion, in the Uldry collection, illustrated in Helmut Brinker and Albert Lutz, Chinese Cloisonné: The Pierre Uldry Collection, London, 1989 (German edition Zurich, 1985), no. 268.
The incorporation of golden-olive taotie masks complemented with two blue subsidiary taotie masks is also seen on a cloisonné enamel hu-shaped vase with the same four-character reign mark cast in relief, sold at Christie’s London, 15th May 2018, lot 3.
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