This vase traces the level of interaction and exchange between the Qing court and Jesuit missionaries, who are credited with the introduction of both the famille-rose palette and the technique of enamelling on metal. Chinese craftsmen based in Guangzhou, the main point of contact for foreign trade and the first landing place for many Jesuit missionaries, were very receptive of novel techniques and designs. The idyllic pastoral scenes of European figures in a European landscape on this vase are reminiscent of works by French Rococo painters, such as François Boucher (1703-1770), Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806) and Nicolas Lancret (1690-1743). The sumptuous gilt-bronze C-scrolls that cover the body were also inspired by European designs, in particular the taste of Louis XI, although here their combination with scattered flowers makes them appear as tumultuous waves.
Such opulently decorated vases are rare, and only one other Qianlong mark and period vase similarly painted with European pastoral scenes framed by C-scrolls, but of larger size, appears to be known: from the Qing court collection and still in Beijing, it was included in the exhibition Tributes from Guangdong to the Court, Art Gallery, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 1987, cat. no. 46 (fig. 1).
A similar design of pastoral scenes framed by a foliate cartouche is also found on a Qianlong mark and period box and cover, in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, illustrated in Enamel Ware in the Ming and Ch’ing Dynasties, Taipei, 1999, pl. 162; a censer sold at Christie’s London, 8th December 1986, lot 349, and again at Christie’s Hong Kong, 29th/30th September 1992, lot 893; and a smaller unmarked vase sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 29th May 2013, lot 2159.
The attraction of Western subject matter for the Qianlong Emperor is closely linked to one of the most grand and ambitious architectural projects he commissioned: the expansion of the Yuanming Yuan, also known as the Old Summer Palace, into thousands of magnificently furnished residential halls and offices. This massive palace was divided into five complexes, including one with European-style buildings inspired by the Trianon in Versailles. Constructed between 1747 and 1759, these buildings were filled with Western-style furnishing and decorations, as well as favoured curios such as clocks, mechanical devices and other European tribute items. These buildings also housed many items decorated with European subjects, where they provided the Emperor a ‘window on Europe’.
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