Crisply moulded in the shape of a cube supported on a fourteen-face polyhedron, the present vase is adorned on the sides with eight immortals depicted riding on scrolling clouds, all within a square cartouche. The eight immortals can be identified as: Lü Dongbin with a sword, Cao Guojiu with his clappers, Han Xiangzi playing his flute, Zhong Liquan presenting a peach, Lan Caihe with his basket, Zhang Guolao with his fish drum, He Xiangu perching a sprig of lotus and Li Tieguai holding his gourd. The corners of the lower bulb are further decorated with longevity characters and the base moulded with a flowerhead, surrounded by a four-character reign mark.
See two similar gourd vases, also moulded with Qianlong shangwan marks: the first, with its interior similarly lacquered black, but the eight immortals arranged in a different order, illustrated in Wang Shixiang, Zhongguo hulu [Chinese gourds], Shanghai, 1998, pl. 22; and the other one in the collection of Tianjin Museum. The left to right arrangement of the shang and wan characters of the reign mark on the present vase, different from the right to left convention as seen on the above examples, appears highly unusual.
According to the inventory ‘Xinuange huluqi dang’an [Archive of the guard wares in Xinuange]’ from 1837 during the Daoguang period, four ‘eight immortals’ gourd vases with black lacquer on the interior were stored in Xinuange; see Gugong bowuyuan cang Qinggong chenshe dang’an [Furnishing archives of the Qing palace in the collection of the Palace Museum], vol. 4, Beijing, 2013, p. 39. On the 23rd day of the last month of the same year, however, a group of gourd wares, including the four vases mentioned above, were gifted to Mongolian nobility and lamas (fig. 1).
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