An Imperial miniature gilt-splashed bronze double-vase Palace Workshops Mark and period of Qianlong
Acquired in London, 1972.
This exquisitely cast and finely decorated miniature double-vase belongs to a special group of wares that was particularly appreciated by the Qianlong emperor who was an enthusiastic collector of curios and miniature artefacts that were either contained in specially crafted treasure boxes or kept in his private studio. Miniature objects were made in various mediums and precious materials. While large, impressive artefacts immediately attract the attention of the viewer, the beauty of miniature pieces lay in the extraordinary level of craftsmanship and detail achieved by the artist who has applied his masterly skills onto a small surface.
The exceptional quality of this vase combined with the addition of the Emperor's
four-character reign mark incised on the base suggest that the vessel is possibly the product of the Palace Workshop located in the Forbidden City. Qianlong reign marks of this type were widely used by the Palace Workshop and can be found on wares made for the emperor and his family. See a miniature bronze double hero's vase, bearing a similar mark, from the Winkworth collection, illustrated in R. Soame Jenyns and William Watson, Chinese Art. The Minor Arts, London, 1963, pl. 50, bearing a similar mark.
The present vase would have been placed on the emperor's writing desk and used as a miniature flower vase or a water vessel, possibly as an elegant paper-weight or even as a brushrest with the brush placed between the two vessels. Apart from its function its size made it easy to hold and to privately enjoy. In its form and decoration the vase alludes to ancient wares, such as the large guan with cylindrical handles and arrow vases used in the ancient game of taohu (throwing arrows).
A Qianlong mark and period double vase decorated with stylized dragons, archaistic strapwork, cicada lappets and small animal-mask escutcheons, from the Robert H. Clague collection, was included in the exhibition China's Renaissance in Bronze: The Robert H. Clague Collection of Later Bronzes 1100-1900, Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, 1993, cat. no. 40; and one related in form and decoration to the Clague vase was sold in our London rooms, 13th July 2005, lot 251, also with a Qianlong reign mark on the base.