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A turquoise-ground famille-rose and gilt-decorated vase, Seal mark and period of Qianlong. Estimate 2,800,0003,500,000 HKD. Unsold. Photo: Sotheby’s.

the elegant pear-shaped body gently sweeping up to a waisted neck and flared rim, all supported on a splayed foot, the neck applied with a pair of moulded iron-red ruyi sceptre handles, each depicted suspending a mock soft blue sash linked with a gilt wan symbol, the body deftly enamelled in multi-coloured enamels with luxuriant blooming lotus flowerheads borne on scrolling foliage, interlinked with stylised shou characters and outstretched bats, all below a band of trefoil petal lappets below the gilded rim, the foot bordered with floral scrolls, all reserved against a brilliant turquoise ground, the interior and base similarly enamelled in turquoise, the base inscribed in gilt with a six-character seal mark; 33 cm., 13 in.

Notes: The present vase belongs to a group of vessels commissioned by the Qianlong Emperor in imitation of cloisonné enamel. He was particularly fond of cloisonné work, which he revived on a grand scale after it fell out of favour under his predecessor, the Yongzheng Emperor (1722-35). He had it imitated not only on enamelled porcelain, as seen on the present vase, but even on enamelled copper, where the wires separating the cloisons of different enamels on cloisonné prototype were reproduced by finely painted golden lines. Although the idea of imitating other material through porcelain originated before the 18th century, the craftsmen of the Qianlong period advanced the technique to a completely different level of perfection, sometimes creating pieces that were difficult to distinguish from the actual medium they were simulating. The painter of the present piece has successfully imitated the effect of gilt wires by outlining the famille-rose enamelled pattern in gilt, and the linearity of these outlines creates a pleasing contrast with the sculptural ruyi handles.

While the present vase imitates cloisonné metal work in its colour scheme and lotus scroll design, technically and stylistically it stands in the yangcai tradition with its sumptuous feathery leaves on a coloured ground. Further vases belonging to this group of porcelains, of various forms and decoration, include three from the Qing Court collection and still in Beijing, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Porcelains with Cloisonné Enamel Decoration and Famille Rose Decoration, Hong Kong, 1999, pls. 115, 116 and 119, the latter also with a gilt reign mark; one from the collections of Alfred Morrison, the Fonthilll Heirlooms and J.T. Tai, sold in these rooms, 7th October 2010, lot 2132.

The appearance of ruyi sceptres as handles on vases was clearly a response to the Qianlong Emperor’s infatuation with these portents of good fortune, which during his reign were produced by the thousands in all possible materials. Although ruyisceptres included in the decoration were originally symbols with Buddhist connotation, by the Qianlong period they had become general auspicious emblems and can even be found in combination with Daoist symbols. A similarly decorated vase with ruyi handles, but of ovoid form and the design outlined in black, is illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Porcelains with Cloisonné Enamel Decoration and Famille Rose Decoration, op. cit., pl. 118, together with a ruby-ground vase, pl. 127.

Sotheby’s. Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, Hong Kong | 08 oct. 2014, 03:00 PM