Lot 20. A rare pair of finely decorated celadon-ground famille-rose 'bajixiang' lobed vases, Qianlong seal marks and period (1736-1795). Height 17.3 and 17.2 cm, 6¾ and 6¾ in. Estimate: 150,000 - 250,000 GBPLot sold 300,000 GBP. Photo: Sotheby's.

each modelled with ten lobed sides resting on a short splayed foot, sweeping to broad shoulders and a short waisted neck, each lobe brightly enamelled with one of the auspicious bajixiang ('Eight Buddhist emblems') and hanging chimes interspersed with stylised floral sprigs and beaded tassels, the shoulders decorated with lappets each enclosing a floral bloom reserved on a blue-enamelled curling fronds ground, surmounted by a similarly decorated border of ruyi heads separated by a narrow iron-red border, the base centred with a six-character seal mark in underglaze blue.

Note: This exquisite pair of vases are remarkable for their vibrantly painted motif of bajixiang in famille-rose enamels, the richness of which is accentuated by the celadon-glazed ground. Their unusual lobed form with a flaring mock foot which resembles textile pleats, displays the Qing craftsmen’s creative virtuosity in devising new forms and designs that catered to the Qianlong emperor’s passion for opulent and exotic objects.  

These vases display a fusion of Tibetan and Chinese elements through both their unusual silhouette and subject matter. The Qianlong emperor was a true believer and active practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism and built numerous monasteries and temples in both Beijing, the Yuanmingyuan Summer Palace and Chengde. He commissioned large quantities of ritual implements and sacrificial vessels to both furnish these newly built religious spaces and as gift to family and court members. His fervent support for the religion influenced the artistic direction of the Jingdezhen imperial kilns and resulted in the emergence of an innovative style that combined Tibetan iconography with Chinese decorative motifs. These vases testify to this trend; the bajixiang (Eight Auspicious Symbols), in Sanskrit ashtamangala, important Tibetan symbols that represented aspects of the Buddha, were combined with stone chimes and a colourful palette that was pioneered by Qianlong. Their unusual lobed form, with each lobe splaying gently outwards above the foot, recalls the practice of wrapping Buddhist altar vessels and sculptures in luxuriant cloths.

Vases of this unusual form and decoration are very rare, and no other closely related example appears to have been published. A vase of similar multi-lobed form, but with the lobes continuing to the neck and foot, and described as having been inspired by the form of melons, painted in iron-red and underglaze blue with bats, stone-chimes and floral sprigs, is illustrated in Qingdai taoci daquan [An encyclopaedia of Qing porcelain], Taipei, 1989, p. 265. See also a lobed zun-shaped vase, with floral sprigs painted in doucai enamels and attributed to the Yongzheng reign (r. 1723-1735), in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures in the Palace Museum: Porcelains in Polychrome and Contrasting Colours, Hong Kong, 1999, pl. 228.

Compare also altar vessels similarly painted with bajixiang on a celadon ground, such as a censer sold in these rooms, 12th December 1989, lot 439, and again in our New York rooms, 20th March 2019, lot 542; and another sold in these rooms, 15th July 1980, lot 164.

Sotheby'sImperial Porcelain - A Private Collection, London, 6 november 2019