In its exceptional quality and craftsmanship, this vase was clearly related to the glass ware produced in the Glass House in the Forbidden City under the Qianlong Emperor. The glass workshop was established in 1696 under the jurisdiction of the Zaobanchu and supervised by Kilian Stumpf, a Jesuit missionary with the scientific skills of glassmaking. He is also said to have introduced the art of glassmaking to the court and hired two French Jesuit glassmakers, Vilatte and d’Andigne, along with a few talented Chinese artisans from Yanshen and Guangzhou to work in the Glass House. By Qianlong’s reign glassmaking in China had reached its zenith, particularly with the help of two further Jesuit missionaries, Gabriel-Leonard de Brossard and Pierre d’Incarville, who introduced new designs and successfully produced glass types previously unseen. Palace records show that the Qianlong Emperor was very particular about the standard of glass produced in the workshop, rewarding various officials responsible for the wares when pleased and imposing harsh penalties when displeased (see Emily B. Curtis, ‘Qing Glassmaking. The Jesuit Workshop on Canchikou’, Lustre of Autumn Winter, Beijing, 2004, p. 98).
Although the technique of overlaying (also known as Peking glass) started in the Kangxi period and continued into the Yongzheng reign, only a few pieces from these periods are registered in the imperial archives. It was only with the advent of the Qianlong reign that more glass wares in this decorative style, with its rich sculptural effects, came into prominence. Compare vases with a similar snowflake ground and carved ruby-red overlay, but of much smaller size, such as a jar and cover, with a Qianlong reign mark and of the period, rendered with figures around a pavilion surrounded by trees, from the collections of Harris Hammond, Allen J. Mercher, Walter F Smith Jr, W. Henrich, and Professor P.H. and Mrs T. Plesch, sold in 1957, 1968, and most recently in these rooms, 2nd May 1995, lot 202; and another sold in our London rooms, 20th June 2001, lot 111. See also a pair of bottle vases, carved with immortals amongst rocks and pine trees, with Qianlong reign marks but attributed to the 18th/19th century, included in the exhibition Elegance and Radiance, The Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 2000, pl. 111.
In form and decoration the present vase closely follows Kangxi figural rouleau vases, although each section has been attractively separated with carved bamboo-form borders, creating a sense of unity overall by echoing the decoration at the neck. The interaction between ceramics and glass resulted in fruitful experimentation throughout the Qing period. For example, Longquan celadon ware provided sources for glass shapes while the colour, which also referenced jade, provided inspiration for monochrome opaque glass. The present vase reveals its roots in copper and iron-red decorated porcelain.
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