the delicately potted ovoid body supported on a splayed foot rising to a slightly waisted cylindrical neck flanked by a pair of tubular handles, superbly painted in the falangcai palette with two rounded panels of roccoco scrolls, each enclosing a scene of a Chinese lady and child, their details picked out in meticulous detail, one pair seated at a table by a window with a smaller table behind with a bowl containing finger citrons, the other beside an openwork door with an open window behind, all reserved on dense composite floral meander in lime green, between 'C'-shaped scrolls at the foot and shoulder, the rim and handles encircled with dots, the base inscribed with the red-enamel four-character mark, the wood stand inlaid with silver wire
Porcelain enamelled in the Enamel Workshop within the Zaobanchu (Imperial Palace Workshops) located in the Forbidden City, Beijing, such as the present miniature bottle vase, belong to one of the most exquisite group of wares produced on Imperial command. Few such special pieces have survived with most recorded examples kept in the Palace Museum, Beijing, and the National Palace Museum, Taipei. Although each piece enamelled in the Palace Workshop was subject to the emperor's intense scrutiny, the Beijing enamellers were allowed to use their artistic virtuosity by producing individual pieces and one-off designs. Hence, motifs were rarely repeated nor did they follow a pre-set pattern.
This bottle is closely related to the piece from the Paul and Helen Bernat collection sold in these rooms, 15th November 1988, lot 39. The two bottles are of the same form, size and colour palette and are possibly painted by the same court artist. However, there is a noticeable variation in the depiction of the subject matter making this bottle a unique piece.
In its painting style and subject matter the present bottle belongs to a special group of wares that were influenced by European enamelled pieces which were imported to the court, often as tribute to the emperor. The style of painting is closely related to 18th century prints and engravings from Europe, especially the stippling effects to produce shading and differentiation of depth and form in the figures and background landscape. The scenes are painted in rococo-style panels which also confirm a strong Western influence.
The 'mother and child' theme, with the mother depicted as a Western lady, was first introduced to the Chinese court by French Jesuit artists who were influenced by the rococo taste of France under the reign of Louis XV. The Qianlong emperor was especially fond of this motif and commissioned the making of wares painted with it on various mediums, including porcelain, glass and metal. However, to satisfy Chinese taste and possibly to remove any possible Western religious connotation associated with it, Chinese court artists changed the design to depict a Chinese lady with a child. See a painted enamel loop-handled jar decorated with a Chinese mother and child in panels, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Metal-bodied Enamel Ware, Hong Kong, 2002, pl. 212; and a brushpot also painted with related scenes, ibid., pl. 222. Two Qianlong dishes with this subject matter were included in the Special Exhibition of Enamelled Painted Wares of the Ch'ing Dynasty, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1979, cat.nos. 110 and 111, together with a miniature square vase with similar decoration, cat.no. 74; and an enamelled box, from the Qing Court collection and still in Beijing, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Porcelains with Cloisonne Enamel Decoration and Famille Rose Decoration, Hong Kong, 1999, pl. 36.
Two miniature bottle vases of this type decorated with a European mother and child scene are recorded; one from the J.M. Hu Family Collection included in the Min Chiu Society Thirtieth Anniversary Exhibition, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong, 1990, cat.no. 167, and sold in these rooms, 8th April 2007, lot 806, and the other from the collection of Fu Lu sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 25th October 1993, lot 751, and again in these rooms, 29th October 2000, lot 1. Another small bottle of this form painted with Chinese rural scenes is published ibid., pl. 37; and two taller vases of the same shape, in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, were included in the Special Exhibition of Ch'ing Dynasty Enamelled Porcelains of the Imperial Ateliers, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1992, cat.nos. 144 and 143, the former painted with the image of 'Madonna and child' in panels on blue and puce enamel floral scroll ground, the latter depicting a Western 'mother and child' scene.
The choice of painting in the European style on what is ultimately a very Chinese shape is also worth noting. In its form the present piece is inspired by Song dynasty arrow vases which were undoubtedly admired by the Qianlong emperor. See a 'Ge' arrow vase, from the Qing Court collection, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Porcelain of the Song Dynasty (II), Hong Kong, 1996, pl. 37. The combination of Chinese form and European-style design represents a harmonious blend of Eastern and Western taste. It is also a taste closely associated with the Qianlong emperor whose patronage and interest in highly ornate, unusual and often showy designs played a vital role in the making of such extraordinary pieces.
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