MARK AND PERIOD OF QIANLONG
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sublimely crafted, the rectangular box composed of three removable interlocking trays and a cover supported in a gilt-bronze frame, the top of the cover elegantly enamelled on a white ground with three mynah birds shown seated and flying amidst brightly coloured chrysanthemums and aster flowers, framed within a dense blue foliate scroll border, the sides with a band of key-fret above pink detached flower heads scattered on a lemon-yellow ground with grey foliate scrolls, the three trays all similarly decorated with two quatrefoil panels on the longer sides and a single panel on the narrow sides, each containing a fine puce-enamelled landscape vignettes, all reserved against an assortment of flowers borne on a leafy-green scroll, the flowers including lotus, camellia, aster, begonia, and hibiscus all picked-out in pink and blue enamels reserved on a matching lemon-yellow ground, the interior and base enamelled in turquoise blue, the underside inscribed with a four-character mark in dark blue enamel set within a double square, supported upon a gilt-bronze frame with the struts on the sides formed from two pairs of confronting gui dragons, the openwork handle similarly decorated with a pair of deconstructed gui dragons in profile framing the interior, the edges chased with an undulating foliate scroll, the box secured to the frame by a slender lock running through the cover
By the 18th century, the technique of enamelling on metal reached its peak, reflecting the very high skills of court artists employed by the Enamelling Workshop and the extravagant taste of the emperor. The present tiered box is a fine example of perfection of style and technique. The enamelling is superbly rendered with much attention paid to the smallest detail such as the animated and realistic depiction of the birds and the beautiful and naturalistic rendering of the flowers. The panel on the cover is decorated in a painterly manner typical of court paintings of birds and flowers seen on Imperial porcelain; for example see a Qianlong dish included in The Special Exhibition of Ch'ing Dynasty Enamelled Porcelains of the Imperial Ateliers, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1992, cat. no. 116, also with a similar flower scroll design on a yellow-ground around the rim interspersed with landscape vignettes in puce enamel.
A comparable tiered box, decorated with landscape scenes in panels is illustrated in Michael Gillingham, Chinese Painted Enamels, Oxford, 1978, pl. 53. The present box is reminiscent of a tiered octagonal-form winter inkstone box, sold in these rooms, 27th April 2003, lot 4, the cover painted in the classical Guyuexuan-style with geese and quails amongst flowers, with side panels densely decorated with flower scrolls on a yellow-ground. See also a melon-shaped box enamelled with landscapes, Western-style figures and flowers within cartouches, surrounded by floral scrolls on a yellow-ground, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Metal-bodied Enamel Ware, Hong Kong, 2002, pl. 208.
Beijing Palace Museum Researcher, Mr. Xia Gangxi, has examined this piece and commented that the enamelled box "is elegantly proportioned and of expandable compact form." And the colours are "pure yet luxurious." He calls the painting on the box "well executed with a lively composition" and most importantly, the box is "not only an exceptional piece among the imperial enamelled vessels, but also an extremely rare example with no previously published comparison."
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