The depiction of numerous boys at play in a garden, representing the wish for many sons, was a popular theme in the decorative arts of the Ming and Qing dynasties. The style of the present vase was pioneered during the Qianlong period to resemble paintings mounted between textile borders. Such vases are considered to have been produced at the imperial kilns at Jingdezhen during the early years of the Jiaqing Emperor’s reign.
On the present vase, each of the nine boys holds an object potent with auspicious symbolism. One of the boys holds a ruyi scepter. The word ruyi means 'as you desire' and represents the wish for all your desires to come true. One boy holds a spear, called a ji, in Chinese, which is a homophone for 'grade', referring to the grades in the imperial examinations. Another grasps a rod suspending a chime, the character of which sounds similar to that for 'celebration'. The boy holding a vase (ping) with stalks of lotus (he) represents the rebus heping (‘peace and harmony’). One boy holds an instrument called a sheng, whose name is a pun on the word 'ascend', in one hand, and an osmanthus sprig in the other to symbolise the wish for literary ascendancy. Another clutches a gold ingot and a brush, representing the wish that literary success will bring wealth, and finally one boy holds a peony, which represents wealth and honour. Furthermore, the number nine is also notable as the character jiu is synonymous with the character for ‘long lasting’, hence making it a perfect symbol of eternity.
Compare an ovoid vase depicting a similar scene of nine boys at play between lime-green borders, sold in these rooms, 19th-20th March 2013, lot 226; and another sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 16th May 1977, lot 225. A vase of this form and colour scheme, but depicting a lively ‘Hundred Boys’ scene, sold at Christie’s South Kensington, 17th May 2013, lot 1504; another, but between turquoise bands, sold at Bonhams Hong Kong, 27th November 2014, lot 187.
The motif of boys at play is also seen on earlier Qianlong period wares, compare a lantern-shape vase with the bajixiang painted on green enamel bands, illustrated in Qing Imperial Porcelain of the Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong Reigns, Nanjing, 1995, pl. 87; and another, but between lotus blooms enamelled on ruby-red borders, sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 29th-30th October, 1995, lot 756, and again in these rooms, 17th March 2009, lot 123.