A very rare famille-rose cloisonné-imitation bottle vase, Qing dynasty, Qianlong period (1736-1795)



Lot 3615. A very rare famille-rose cloisonné-imitation bottle vase, Qing dynasty, Qianlong period (1736-1795); 34 cm, 13 3/8  in. Estimate 800,000 — 1,200,000 HKD. Lot sold 2,500,000 HKD (322,025 USD). Courtesy Sotheby's.

the baluster body surmounted by a tall cylindrical neck flaring towards the rim, set with a pair of gilt brown-glazed archaistic dragon handles in openwork, ornately painted on the exterior with four roundels formed from a large lotus bloom wreathed by stylised foliate scrolls below an iron-red bat, alternating with detached floral sprays, all below horizontal bands of trefoil lappets, keyfret and ruyi heads collaring the shoulder, the neck similarly decorated with leafy sprays of lilies below gilt trefoils, all reserved against a bright turquoise ground accented with gilt ruyi motifs simulating enamels and cloisons, the gilt rim encircled by a brown-glazed band of interlocking C scrolls in gilt and the foot skirted by a lappet band, left white on the interior and base.

NoteThis magnificent vase belongs to a group of vessels commissioned by the Qianlong Emperor which was created to imitate cloisonné enamel. The Qianlong Emperor was particularly fond of cloisonné work which he revived on a grand scale after a period of disregard under the Yongzheng Emperor. He had it imitated in painted enamel and porcelain, where the wires separating the cloisons of different enamels were mirrored by finely painted golden lines, as seen on the present piece.

No other examples appear to be recorded, although a cloisonné-imitation bottle vase in the Qing court collections and now in the Palace Museum, Beijing, decorated with similar collar bands and archaistic handles (phoenix) but with the floral designs arranged in a leafy meander, is illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Porcelains with Cloisonné Enamel Decoration and Famille-Rose Decoration, Hong Kong, 2008, pl. 119.

Particularly unique of its type is the more naturalistic, painterly representations of the floral decoration on the present vase, in opposed to the more usual gold-outlined designs, such as that seen on a larger vase decorated with bats among interlaced flower sprays, also flanked by a pair of dragon handles, exhibited in Treasures of Hong Kong. The 20th Anniversary of Hong Kong Handover, Beijing, 2018, cat. no. 193. The decorative repertoire of the present vase, although essentially imitating cloisonné metalwork, stands stylistically in the tradition of yangcai porcelain with its dense floral designs on a coloured ground. The term ‘yangcai’, used by the Emperor himself, acknowledges the exchanges between China and the West, seen here in the Western-style floral compositions. Furthermore, the design is rendered in tones created through the use of white enamel which was first introduced to the Qing court by Jesuit artists and, after repeated experiments, were successfully copied by imperial craftsmen.

Although there is no direct counterpart to the present vase known in cloisonné enamel, the treatment of its turquoise ground with gold-painted ruyi swirls is vaguely reminiscent of a 16th century cloisonné vase from the National Palace Museum, Taipei, illustrated in Enamel Ware in the Ming and Ch’ing Dynasties, Taipei, 1999, pl. 9. Furthermore, the metalwork-imitation elements on the present vase, such as the gilt-decorated brown-glazed bands and dragon handles, appear to be truthful representations of earlier cloisonné enamel wares, see a late Ming dynasty cloisonné enamel phoenix-head ewer in the Qing court collection, now in Beijing, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Metal-bodied Enamel Ware, Hong Kong, 2002, pl. 67.

Sotheby's. Important Chinese Art, Hong Kong, 03 Apr 2019