Two almost identical teapots, both with a Qianlong reign mark and of the period, are published; one in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, illustrated in Enamel Ware in the Ming and Ch'ing Dynasties, Taipei, 1999, pl. 111, and the other in the Palace Museum, Beijing, included in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Metal-bodied Enamel Ware, Hong Kong, 2002, pl. 197. Qianlong teapots of this form and design closely copy the Kangxi prototype, an example of which is in the National Palace Museum published in Enamel Ware in the Ming and Ch'ing Dynasties, op.cit., pl. 93. The Kangxi teapot bears a four-character Kangxi yuzhi mark, implying that the vessel was made on imperial order.
Teapots for the court were made in various forms and decoration, for example see one painted with a delineated lotus design in blue enamel against a white ground, included in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Metal-bodied Enamel Ware, op. cit., pl. 198, together with a teapot with a flower medallion motif, pl. 199. Further two Qianlong teapots are published in Zhongguo jinyin boli falangqi quanji, vol. 6, Beijing, 2002, pl. 132 and 137, both in the collection of the Palace Museum.
Painted Enamel Ware by Imperial Order
On the 24th of August 1687, Father Jean de Fontenoy, Superior of the first group of missionaries sent to China by Louis XIV, told his colleagues in Paris that gifts of painted enamels had been well-received by the Chinese ruler, Emperor Kangxi, and more would be welcomed as long as there were no miniatures and nudities.1 It was customary that missionaries coming to China would bear gifts of 'exotic' goods such as brocades, velvet, clocks, paintings and enamelled wares on copper produced in places such as Limoges, Nuremberg, Genéva and Berlin. Kangxi admired these gifts and became a connoisseur and collector of Western clocks, scientific instruments and painted enamels. His particular fascination with Western enamelled wares and his patronage in establishing the production of such wares in the Imperial Palace Workshop brought about a new decorative art that came to represent a harmonious blend of western technique and Chinese workmanship.
The Enamel Workshop, in charge of producing cloisonné, champlevé, and painted enamel wares on metal, glass and porcelain, took its orders from the Zaobanchu (Imperial Palace Workshop) that was established as an official institution with numerous workshops, each specializing in a certain type of product. The workshops were under the instruction of the Neiwufu (Imperial Household Department) that managed the everyday affairs of the court and the palace, while the Zaobanchu oversaw the production of utensils and wares for use in the Imperial Household. Matteo Ripa, a Neapolitan priest invited by Kangxi to work in the Zaobanchu, wrote the following in March 1716:
'His Majesty having become fascinated by our European enamel and by the new method of enamel painting, tried by every possible means to introduce the latter into his imperial workshops which he had set up for this purpose within the palace, with the result that with the colours used there to paint porcelain and with several large pieces of enamel which he had brought from Europe, it became possible to do something'.2
Another Jesuit priest, Father de Maille, writing from Rehe (also known as Jehol) to the Chinese Mission in Paris in 1720, mentions that a Brother Gravereau was sent to China at the request of the Kangxi Emperor to help with the manufacturing of enamels. It further notes that by that time (1720) the Chinese had been producing enamelled wares for five or six years.3 According to these letters, enamelling on metal was possibly first introduced to the Enamel Workshop around 1714-1716, by which time enamelling on porcelain already had been established.
Initially, foreign missionaries taught the technique of enamelling on metal to Chinese artisans mainly recruited from Guangzhou where there was a concentration of especially talented artists in this field. From a court memorial endorsed by the Kangxi Emperor and dated to the 55th year of his reign (1716) it is known that the Viceroy of Guangdong and Guangxi already sent two artisans to Beijing at that time to serve in the Enamel Workshop.4 The technique of enamelling on metal had been introduced to the artists in Guangzhou by Jesuit missionaries around 1684. They had been most immediately exposed to wares from Europe and had mastered the technical skills of enamel painting on metal earlier than artists in Beijing. Kangxi's grand-son, the Qianlong Emperor, was also known to recruit enamel artists from Guangzhou. Yang Boda, in his work on tributes from Guangdong to the court, mentions that enamel factories in Guangzhou "had to supply versatile artisans and foreign or local enamel colours for the Imperial Workshop in Beijing. Thus both the development and improvement of the standard of the imperial enamel workshop was entirely dependent on Guangdong enamel factories."5
The manufacturing process of painting with enamels on metal begins with the coating of the metal object with a white 'glaze' similar to that used on porcelain. This is fired at low temperature, which helps to secure the enamel to the metal body. Decorators then apply the design in coloured enamels and the piece is fired again at low temperature. The final stage is the gilding of the rims where the copper is exposed, for example, at the mouth and the foot of a vessel. The enamel pigment used is called yangcai or 'foreign enamel' as it was initially imported from Europe. Domestic production of yangcai started from around 1728, with the creation of the most important colour, opaque white enamel. White was essential for the artist so that he could obtain pastel shades, essential for his painting, especially flowers and for achieving a successful shading.6
By Qianlong's reign, the craft of enamelling on metal had reached perfection with forms and designs often reflecting the emperor's extravagant and lavish taste. Exceptionally high standards were reached, and this art-form continued receiving the emperor's foremost interest and patronage. The delicate teapot is a fine example of the perfect combination of an elegant shape, lavish colouration and technical perfection. Interestingly, the vessel is a close copy of an earlier, Kangxi period, prototype, an example of which is in the National Palace Museum. Qianlong must have been especially fond of this vessel as a number of them were made with two almost identical examples extant, one in the Palace Museum (fig.1) and one in Taipei.
The inscribed cup in this catalogue displays certain characteristics associated with early enamelled wares. It is painted on a white ground in a free style with the metal body relatively heavy and thick. However, the use of a floral design on a coloured ground to provide the main decorative theme is typical of the painterly decoration found on Yongzheng and Qianlong wares. The form of the cup and the decoration combined with an inscription are inspired by Imperial porcelain vessels, for example see a Qianlong period cup from the collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei, included in the Special Exhibition of Ch'ing Dynasty Enamelled Porcelains of the Imperial Ateliers, Taipei, 1992, cat. no. 72 (fig.2).
The painting on the tiered box in the group is especially fine and is reminiscent of the famous covered jar decorated with landscape scenes in the National Palace Museum. The use of landscape panels in puce enamel was much favoured by Qianlong and can be seen on both metal and porcelain wares. For example see a pair of Qianlong dishes included in the National Palace Museum's Stunning Decorative Porcelains from the Ch'ien-lung Reign exhibition, Taipei, 2008, cat. no. 90 (fig.3). Compare also a Qianlong vase decorated with elaborate compositions of figures and small landscape panels in puce enamel on a rich yellow-ground painted with dense composite scrollwork sold in these rooms, 29th October 2000, lot 3.
1 Chinese Painted Enamels of the 18th Century, The Chinese Porcelain Company, New York, 1993, p. v.
2 George Loehr, 'Missionary-Artists at the Manchu Court', Transactions of the oriental Ceramic Society, vol. 34 , 1962-63, London, 1964, p. 55.
3 Sir Harry Garner, 'The origins of Famille Rose', Transactions of the Oriental ceramic Society, vol. 37, 1967-1969, London, 1970, p. 4.
4 Yang Boda, Tributes from Guangdong to the Ch'ing Court, Hong Kong, 1987, p. 63.
5 Ibid., p. 63.
6 Ts'ai Ho-pi, Special Exhibition of Ch'ing Dynasty Enamelled Porcelains of the Imperial Ateliers, Taipei, 1993, p.15.
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