A FINE AND RARE LARGE TURQUOISE-GROUND 'BAJIXIANG' CLOISONNE-IMITATION VASE SEAL MARK AND PERIOD OF QIANLONG
- 55 cm, 21 5/8 in.
Collection of the Rt. Hon Lord Margadale of Islay, T.D.
Christie's London, 18th October 1971, lot 82.
Jen Chai Art Gallery, New York, no. A532 (one of the gallery labels of J.T. Tai & Co.).
Collection of J.T. Tai.
Sotheby's Hong Kong, 7th October 2010, lot 2132.
This magnificent vase belongs to a group of vessels commissioned by the Qianlong Emperor which was created to imitate cloisonné enamel. The Qianlong Emperor was particularly fond of cloisonné work which he revived on a grand scale after a period of disregard under the Yongzheng Emperor. He had it imitated not only in porcelain, like on the present piece, but even in copper, where the wires separating the cloisons of different enamels were mirrored by finely painted golden lines. Although the idea of imitating other materials through porcelain had existed well-before the eighteenth century, the craftsmen of the Qianlong period advanced the technique to a completely different level of perfection, sometimes creating pieces that were difficult to distinguish from the actual medium they were simulating. The painter of the present piece has successfully imitated the effect of gilt wires by outlining the famille-rose enamelled pattern in gilt, the linearity of which creates a pleasing contrast with the sculptural ruyi handles.
While in its colour scheme the present vase imitates cloisonné metalwork, stylistically it stands in the plain tradition of yangcai porcelain with its dense overall floral designs on a coloured ground. The term ‘yangcai’, used by the Emperor himself, acknowledges the exchanges between China and the West, seen here in particular in the bajixiang that are interspersed among Western-style floral compositions. Furthermore, the design is rendered in tones created through the use of white enamel which was first introduced to the Qing court by Jesuit artists and, after repeated experiments, were successfully copied by imperial craftsmen. Particularly unusual is the asymmetrical irregular pattern whose admirable organisation nevertheless conveys the impression of a formally organised design. It is composed of flower sprays, which are loosely strewn all over the body, but so evenly spaced over the surface that any clusters or gaps are avoided. The thin golden outlines confining the vibrant enamels are a brilliant means to make the colours stand out against the turquoise ground.
The appearance of ruyi sceptres as handles on vases was clearly a response to the Qianlong Emperor's infatuation with these portents of good fortune, which during his reign were produced by the thousands in all possible materials. Although ruyi sceptres as well as the bajixiang included in the decoration were originally symbols with Buddhist connotation, by the Qianlong period they had become general auspicious emblems and can even be found in combination with Daoist symbols.
Compare three related vases in the Palace Museum, Beijing, from the Qing court collection: one of gourd shape without handles, similarly decorated with loosely strewn flower sprays in cloisonné style, but lacking the bajixiang and bearing a red seal mark; another of simpler bottle form with different handles, decorated with flower scrolls in cloisonné style and bearing a similar mark in gold; and a third with similar ruyi handles but decorated with flower scrolls without golden outlines on a turquoise ground, all illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Porcelains with Cloisonné Enamel Decoration and Famille-Rose Decoration, Hong Kong, 1999, pls 115, 119 and 118. Further large vases belonging to this group, of various forms and decoration, include one enamelled with bats among clouds and flower sprays, flanked by a pair of archaistic dragon handles, sold in these rooms, 8th October 2013, lot 201 (fig. 1); another also painted with bats and clouds, sold in our London rooms, 10th December 1991, lot 318; and another, depicting bats amongst foliate flower scrolls and iron-red monster mask handles, sold three times in these rooms, 14th November 1989, lot 309, 2nd May 2000, lot 644, and 8th April 2010, lot 1852.
The piece is vaguely reminiscent of a cloisonné vase from the Qing court collection and still in Beijing, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Metal-bodied Enamel Ware, Hong Kong, 2002, pl. 167, which may, however, postdate the present piece. For vases decorated in this cloisonné style but in painted enamel, also in the Palace Museum, Beijing, from the Qing court collection, see ibid., pls 214 and 244, and a detail p. 179.