T his striking vase is notable for its impressive size, fine potting and skillfully executed, varied decorative bands, and represents the expertise of craftsmen working during the Qianlong reign. In order to satisfy his own flamboyant taste, the Qianlong Emperor is known to have commissioned artists working in the Imperial kilns at Jingdezhen to make pieces that were highly challenging and unconventional, often placing particular emphasis on the showier aspects of production and on the virtuosity of craftsmanship. The refinement of the material and expertise in firing provided a platform for artists to be ambitious in their repertoire and allowed for the making of such large vessels.
The form of this vase is an adaptation of archaic ritual bronze vessels, intended for use during ancestor worship ceremonies. Features like the angular ridge separating a concave neck from a convex body can already by traced to vessels of zun shape and tubular handles to vessels of hu form from the end of the Shang period in the late 2nd millennium BC. This reference to archaic forms would have been much appreciated by the Emperor who was a great connoisseur and a keen collector of archaic pieces.
Further reference to China's celebrated past is seen in the intricately painted floral scrolls which were inspired by Ming dynasty blue and white porcelain of the early 15th century. Painted in a brilliant deep cobalt blue, which reflects the high level of technical achievement by Qing craftsmen, Qing painters employed a stippled effect to simulate the accidental unevenness known as 'heaping and piling' typically found on early Ming pieces.
Large vases of related form, but with a narrow cylindrical neck and without foot were already produced during the Yongzheng reign. A Yongzheng vase in the Palace Museum, Beijing, similarly decorated with Ming-style flower scrolls, is illustrated in Qingdai yuyao ciqi [Qing imperial porcelain], vol. 1, pt. II, Beijing, 2005, pl. 178. This Yongzheng form was also copied rather closely in the Qianlong period; compare two such vases in the Palace Museum, Beijing, one decorated with lotus flowers, the other with Ming-style flower scrolls and other motifs, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Blue and White Porcelain with Underglazed Red, Shanghai, 2000, vol. 3, pls 130 and 131.