Originally inspired by pottery prototypes from the Neolithic period, bronze vessels of this form are believed to have been originally used as wine ewers or pitchers in the Shang and Zhou dynasty. Their function was somewhat revived in the Qing dynasty, as attested by Wang Guowei (1877-1927) in his ‘shuo he’ (On the he) from 1915, where he mentions that at banquets, those that could not tolerate drinking too much wine were offered a weaker version diluted with water poured from a he. Porcelain he appear to have been an 18th century innovation, and according to Palace documents, the first order for these vessels took place in the 3rd year of the Qianlong reign.
Ewers of this unusual form are found in important private and museum collections; one in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, was included in the Museum’s exhibition K’ang-Hsi, Yung-Cheng and Ch’ien-Lung Porcelain Ware from the Ch’ing Dynasty in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1986, cat. no. 71; another in the Tianjin Municipal Museum is illustrated in Tianjin Shi Yishu Bowuguan cang ci [Porcelains from the Tianjin Municipal Museum], Tianjin, 1993, pl. 166; and a third in the collection of Her Majesty the Queen is illustrated in John Ayers, Chinese and Japanese Works of Art, London, 2016, vol. 1, pl. 424, together with a Jiaqing mark and period example, pl. 425. See also one from the collections of Eva Lande and Julius Morgenroth, sold in our New York rooms, 17th March 2009, lot 122; and a slightly smaller example also lacking the cover included in the exhibition Treasures of Imperial Porcelain. Official Kiln Porcelain of the Qing Dynasty Collected by Hangzhou Tu Huo Zhai Museum of Antique Ceramics, Hangzhou, 2011, pl. 100.
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