MARKS AND PERIOD OF QIANLONG
the censer with deep rounded sides supported on three short cylindrical legs, flanked at the shoulder by a pair of large flaring rectangular loop handles, decorated across the body in cloisonné enamels with lotus blooms on meandering leafy stems, with a broad gilt-metal band carved with archaistic scroll designs, the waist decorated with stylised floral sprays above a band of pendant lappets, the mouthrim similarly decorated below ruyi-shaped heads, the legs each surmounted by large gilt-metal lion heads, and decorated with further scrolling lotus stems above a band of ruyi-heads, the gilt-metal rim incised with the six-character mark, each vase of pear-shaped form supported on a flared foot, the neck flanked by a pair of ruyi-shaped handles suspending loose rings, similarly decorated to the censer with leafy scrolling lotus stems across the body, with a broad gilt-metal band across the centre with archaistic scroll designs, the neck separated by two raised gilt bands, incised to the gilt-metal rim with the six-character mark
This magnificent set of cloisonné altar garniture represents the pinnacle of artistic and technical achievement of imperial enamel craftsmanship of the Qianlong period. Every detail on this set has been executed to the highest degree. This is evident from the quality of the gilding on all three pieces, especially the archaistic animal masks bands around the middle section of the vessels and the crisp casting of the lappets. No detail has been spared, including the hefty mass of the rings on the handle, each weighing approximately half a kilogram. The layout of the thin wires forming the cloisons is precise and well planned. The bright enamel colours are all delicately blended and sophisticatedly done. In terms of sheer size for a garniture group and overall quality, this set is unrivalled.
Large scale cloisonné vessels were commissioned not only to evoke grandeur in the imperial palaces of the eighteenth and nineteenth century, as well as to serve as ceremonial furnishings in Buddhist (Lamaist), Confucian and Daoist temples. The wares were manufactured at the imperial cloisonné workshops under the supervision of the Palace Workshops (Zaoban chu). See a photo taken in the early 20th century of a set of cloisonné altar vessels, including a smaller ding and a pair of vases similar to the ones in the present lot and utensils in situ before the main cult figure in the Daxiongbaodian of the Danzhe Temple near Beijing, illustrated in Helmut Brinker and Albert Lutz, Chinese Cloisonné: The Pierre Uldry Collection, New York, 1989, p. 53, fig. 29.
Another smaller five-piece altar set in the Palace Museum was exhibited in the Royal Academy of Arts, China: The Three Emperors 1662-1795, London, 2005, exhibition cat. no. 44. See also a group of censers and braziers in situ in the throne hall of the Mansion of Heavenly Purity in the Palace Museum, illustrated in Chuimei Ho and Bennet Bronson, Slendors of China's Forbidden City: The Glorious Reign of Emperor Qianlong, Field Museum, 2004, p. 47, fig. 32.
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