Panels that combined ancient with contemporary objects began to be created during the Kangxi period and flourished under the Qianlong Emperor. This fusion of past and present is evident in the archaistic fangding which reveals the scholar's reverence for the past, and its juxtaposition with the later gilt-bronze incense burner provides a neat representation of the passing of time. The porcelain, cloisonné enamel and jade pieces show that the finest quality materials were selected and created for this panel. References to antiquity are also made in these materials with the flambé vase looking back to the celebrated Song wares and through the archaistic style of decoration of the jade chime and cloisonné vase.
This assemblage of auspicious objects suggests that the panel was created in celebration of a New Year's festival. Firecrackers are believed to ward off evil, a belief that continued from the ancient practice of burning bamboo to scare off evil spirits, and are also a pun for 'year after year' (suisui) as they break into fragments after explosion. The branch of peonies is included as they are the first to bloom each year and thus one of the most important flowers for the New Year. This branch of peonies, finger citron and lychee have been magnificently recreated in hardstone to represent the wish for wealth, honour and many sons. The ivory figures of boys at play, in this case with musical instruments, symbolise the wish for raising many outstanding sons and add a touch of festive playfulness to the scene.
Very few panels of this type are known, particularly of this impressive large size; compare a smaller example, inscribed with a poem with a cyclical date corresponding to 1779, sold in these rooms, 29th April 1997, lot 770; another dated 1773, sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 29th May 2009, lot 1816; and a third example, sold in Christie's London, 16th December 1981, lot 349 and again in these rooms, 7th October 2015, lot 3001. Compare also panels of this type, but lacking the carved lacquer cartouches at the top, such as one on display in the Suianshi (Room of Finding Peace) in the Yangxindian (Hall of Cultivating Mind) in the Forbidden City, Beijing, where the emperor is said to have rested during fasting periods, illustrated in situ in Qingdai gongting shenghuo [Life in the Forbidden City], Hong Kong, 1985, pl. 175, together with a wall panel simulating a display cabinet filled with precious objects, pl. 178; and another sold in our London rooms, 11th June 1996, lot 154, and again in these rooms, 23rd October 2005, lot 362.
Compare also inlaid panels, but without an imperial inscription, such as one mounted in a zitan frame, sold in our London rooms, 11th June 1996, lot 154, and again in these rooms, 23rd October 2005, lot 362; and another sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 26th April 1998, lot 572.
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