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each raised on a high bell-shaped base and set with a wide drip-pan connected to a small sconce by a tall tapering column, decorated all over in vivid famille-rose palette with formal flower scrolls, including lotus and peony, the blooms on curling stems with feathery leaves in shaded tones of green, the elaborate flowers picked out in a blue, purple, pink and lime-green, all reserved on a bright lemon-yellow ground, cast in sections with gilded bands, the four-character Qianlong jing zhi ('Respectfully made in the Qianlong reign') mark written horizontally in red enamel within a blue archaistic scroll border
Worshipping the Ancestors
The striking features of the present pair of candlesticks are their exceptionally large size and fine painted enamelling. They are the products of the Imperial Palace Workshop where such impressive vessels were made on the orders of the Emperor and the court. Candlesticks of this type belonged to a five-piece altar garniture made for one of the temples or shrines where the Qianlong emperor and his family worshipped. Altar garnitures were placed in official sites such as the Temple of Ancestors and the Hall of Ancestors situated in the Forbidden City, and in non-official halls including the Shouhuangdian located in Jinshan, the park that lay immediately north of the Shenwu gate within the grounds of the Imperial Palace. While state ancestral halls featured Nurgaci (the dynastic founder) as the primary object of worship, halls such as the Shouhuangdian functioned as the imperial equivalent of a family ancestor hall for the descendants of the Qianlong emperor where his grandfather, the Kangxi emperor, was the primary object of worship. Non-state halls of worship were also used for domestic ritual performances conducted by Imperial family members.
Apart from their imposing size, these candlesticks are also noteworthy because they are clearly after an earlier, Yongzheng period, pair of candlesticks that formed part of an altar garniture that is now in the Confucius Museum in Qufu, Shandong province, illustrated in Zhongguo jin yin boli falangqi quanji, vol. 5, Shijiazhuang, 2002, pl. 225 (fig. 1). Compare another pair of Yongzheng mark and period candlesticks that also belonged to a garniture of which the censer is in the present sale. They were first sold in our New York rooms, 23rd October 1976, lot 97, and again in these rooms, 16th May 1989, lot 93, as part of the British Rail Pension Fund collection (fig. 2). Although they are also magnificently large in size, they are slightly smaller than Qianlong's version with the decoration reserved on a turquoise ground rather than the yellow that was favoured by the Qianlong emperor. The technique of enamelling, which required the highest level of skill, was first developed during Yongzheng's reign and perfected under Qianlong when even larger examples could be produced flawlessly. Hugh Moss in By Imperial Command, Hong Kong, 1976, pl. 20 illustrates a Yongzheng vase that also belonged to the altar garniture with the candlesticks and censer. He notes ibid., p. 47, that from the Yongzheng period large enamelled metal wares were made in sections and this is one of the important innovations of this period. The technique helped overcome the limitations of size imposed by the small kilns located in the Palace grounds.
A full set of altar furnishing consisted of five pieces arranged with the incense burner placed in the centre with the two candleholders on each side and the two gu-form vases on either end. Vessels bearing Imperial reign marks indicate that they were made for use in the Palace or for the Imperial family. See a complete garniture of much smaller dimensions, painted with the melon and butterfly design within reserved panels against a turquoise ground, from the Qing Court collection and still in Beijing, published in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Metal-bodied Enamel Ware, Hong Kong, 2002, pl. 225.
Five-piece altar garnitures were produced in a variety of mediums: see a large five-piece bronze garniture, bearing Qianlong reign marks and of the period, illustrated in Qingdai gongting shenghuo (Life in the Forbidden City during the Qing Dynasty), Hong Kong, 1985, p. 299, pl. 467, in situ in the Xianruo Temple, located in the garden of Cining Gong (Hall of Compassion and Tranquility) where the empress and consorts conducted Buddhist religious rituals and ceremonies. Another smaller bronze altar garniture, from the Robert H. Clague collection and now in the Phoenix Art Museum is published in Worshipping the Ancestors, Washington D.C., 2001, p. 46, pl. 1.5. See also a complete altar garniture made in cloisonné enamel placed in front of imperial ancestral portraits and depicted in situ in the Shouhuangdian included ibid., p. 46, pl. 1.5. Qianlong mark and period candlesticks attributed to the manufacture of Canton enamellers and presented to the court as tribute items have been offered at auction; for example, see a pair painted with scrolling lotus and hibiscus on a turquoise ground offered at Christie's Hong Kong, 18th March 1991, lot 325. For examples of five-piece altar garnitures decorated in famille-rose see one with Qianlong reign marks and of the period painted with the millefleurs design, from the collections of Richard Bennett Esq. of Thornby Hall and Mrs. Parish Watson of New York, published in E. Gorer and J. F. Blacker, Chinese Porcelain and Hardstones, vol. II, London, 1911, pl. 200; and a doucai decorated garniture sold in our London rooms, 11th May 2011, lot 250.
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