Impressive in size and its magnificent detailed design, the decorative combination of auspicious motifs such as phoenixes, bats and shou characters on a dense foliate scroll indicate that it may have been intended for the emperor's chambers. A pair of related ice chests with matching stands, but with angular corners and the decoration of the lower two registers reversed, was sold at Christie's New York, 20th September 2005, lot 123, and another was sold in our New York rooms, 26th March 1993, lot 163.
For a Qianlong example of similar form see one covered in a butterfly and flower design, from the C. Ruxton and Audrey B. Love collection, sold at Christie's New York, 20th October 2004, lot 601; two ice chests decorated with shou characters against a geometric ground, one sold in our New York rooms, 25th April 1987, lot 386; and the other, from the collection of Count Johann Heinrich von Bernstoff, sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 29th April 2001, lot 578; and another, with a Qianlong reign mark and of the period, but decorated with foliate lotus scrolls, in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Metal-bodied Enamel Ware, Hong Kong, 2002, pl. 129.
Large ice chests of this type derive from wooden prototypes lined with a metal such as lead; see an example in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, illustrated in Craig Clunas, Chinese Furniture, London, 1997, p. 99, pl. 89. The form and horizontal gilt-metal ribs are examples of the original wooden structure that have been retained, along with the transportable nature of these chests as seen in the sturdily-constructed handles.Ice chests were filled with ice and used in the Palace during the hot summer months to cool drinks and food, as well as cooling the surrounding area. The pierced covers allowed cool air to escape, which would then be fanned into the rooms by servants.
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