The bottle is finely potted with rounded body and a sloping shoulder under a high cylindrical slender neck supported on a short unglazed brownish gray foot, exquisitely gold-outlines infilled with sapphire and turquoise enamels and richly gold design, around the exterior against a sumptuous deep ruby-red ground finely applied in the kinrande style with four large lotus blooms borne on curling foliage issuing further florets interrupted with four swastika emblems below ruyi heads band border at the shoulder, repeated at the tall neck within cycled lines, the flat base inscribed with underglaze blue six seal characters “Da Qing Qian Long Nian Zhi” 大清乾隆年制.
RESEARCH & ESSAY.
In ancient China, mallet-shaped bottles were probably used for medicinal liquids and oils. Yet, not like the mallet-shaped bottle with a high bulging cylindrical neck as usual in Chinese ceramic tradition, the present bottle surmounted by a high cylindrical slender neck is probably inspired by antiquity of black or green mallet bottle glass from Europe in England factories that was intended for wine drink storage in 17th and 18th Centuries. The sample of wine bottle, dated to 1731 – 1745, is from Museum of London, London. (see fig. 1). Like the influence of Persia in China in earlier periods, when Europeans arrived in China and established political and trade affairs starting from late 16th, object d’art of both countries were also interplay. Nevertheless, Chinese potters had their own interpretations and meanings on their artworks. The present bottle form was interpreted in resemblance of a Buddhist stupa or bell-shaped metalwork prototypes that have a long history in India, Asian and China countries. In China, the stupa or bronze bell form vessels were then modelled in a symbolic art with variant shapes and designs. The Buddhism bell-shaped bronze prototype formed part of the repertoire of Chinese instruments used in formal secular and religious music. As a patron of Buddhism, Qianlong emperor worshipped the ground walks on Buddhism tenets through its sacred symbols, like the current elements and motifs. Lotus is the symbolic of purity of the body, speech, and mind as while rooted in the mud in Buddhist symbol. It is also a symbolic of detachment of drops of water easily off its petals.
Painted in vibrantly colors of gold-outlines infilled with sapphire and turquoise enamels and richly gold design against a deep ruby-red ground, the present bottle belongs to a group of vessels commissioned by the Qianlong Emperor to emulate the kinrande (gold brocade work) porcelain design of middle Ming dynasty, especially in Jiajing reign. Like designs on kinrande pircelains, the present bottle is decorated with dazzling, intricate and colorful decoration, and its design resembles the textile woven embroidered with gold thread and colorful enamels that is intended to produce a luxurious gold pattern. The earliest decoration of ceramic with gold had been applied widely on Tang pottery figures, and the latter was popular produced by some kilns during the Song and Yuan dynasties. The Jingdezhen kilns then started applying gold decoration during the Yuan dynasty and the technique flourished in the Jiajing reign of Ming dynasty and throughout Qing dynasty. In the Jiajing reign of Ming dynasty, the gold decoration was popular wares exported to Japan, and it was so called ‘Kinrande’ porcelain. The prototype in the form of kinrande stem cup with continuous lotus scroll, dated Jiajing reign of Ming dynasty, from British Museum, is published and illustrated by Jessica Harrison-Hall, in Ming Ceramics in the British Museum, London, 2001, no. 9:68 (see fig. 2).
Qianlong emperor was considered as a discerning connoisseur and avid collector of both antique and contemporary art. Many of the past decorative arts made for his court took the inspiration for their form, technique and decoration from antique objects, including Kinrande wares of Ming dynasty. in eighteenth century, Qianlong reign was marked as the golden age of Chinese porcelains with remarkable designs, either for domestic use, imperial or exported to the European countries, which the role of East Indian Company from British and Dutch East India Company (Netherlands) set up trading posts in Canton and Batavia. The European merchants, in some cases, ordered the Chinese ceramics based on their own designs and tastes. Like design on the present mallet bottle, the lotus blooms borne on curling foliage issuing further florets are clearly inspired by Western ornament that are stylized and arranged symmetrically resembling the European arabesques art and décor styles. Modelled and executed in hybrid of Eastern and Western shape and element, the present bottle is an attainment of intersection of culture and technique between Eastern design and Western aesthetic taste synthesis.
The current Qianlong bottle has distinctly uniqueness in its decorative kinrande-style technique on sumptuous ruby ground epitomizing much of the lavish and colorful design. The design appears like the extravagant Chinese red gold-embroidered silk brocades style for imperial ladies. The types of Imperial ceramic in Qianlong periods were made in a wide repertoire of forms and with an extensive array of colorful designs at grounds produced in Imperial workshop. Remarkably, the richly painted pattern with a variety of colour gradations, the current vessel attests to the advanced level of skills achieved by the enamelers implying the imperial nobility and luxury of bottle appealing a feminine taste with a distinct three-dimensional quality that was suitable only for imperial lady’s chamber in the Qianlong period.
The flora scroll design like on the present bottle are widely used in variety of famille rose porcelains of Qianlong reign with a wide range style in different vessels and glaze. For example, compare with the related design of lotus scroll against a turquoise ground mallet-shaped bottle of Qianlong period 16 cm in height), sold at Christie’s London, King Street, 9 November 2010, lot. 222 (see fig. 3). Also, see the related design on a famille rose and gilt on turquoise ground bowl of Qianlong period (16.9 cm in diameter) in similar pattern to the present piece, sold at Christie’s New York, 15th September 2017, lot. 1270 (see fig. 4). Compare with style of a famille rose ruby-ground bottle but without any gilt-outlined enamels (18.5 cm in height) inscribed with iron-red Qianlong reign and of period, sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 27 May 2008, lot 1547 (see fig. 5). See the related design on turquoise-ground famille rose bottle vase with iron-red seal mark of Qianlong and period, sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 1st June 2011. Lot. 3736 (see fig. 6).
The lotus scroll design like on the present bottle is more frequently seen on vessels with famille-rose decoration. Again, compare with other famille rose style vessels in related stylistic lotus scroll decoration on ruby ground bottle with ruyi handles of Qianlong period, from collection of National Palace Museum, Taipei, illustrated in lustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Porcelains with Cloisonne Enamel Decoration and Famille Rose Decoration, Hong Kong, 1999, pl. 127. (see fig. 7). It is unusual to find this richly gold and enamels design against a deep ruby-ground palette bottle. The present piece can be recognized by its distinctive ruby-red ground enamel gold and various enamels showing that the present piece was costly to produce and required a very labor-intensive process.
Ming Ceramics in the British Museum, Jessica Harrison-Hall, London, 2001, no. 9:68.
The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Porcelains with Cloisonne Enamel Decoration and Famille Rose Decoration, Hong Kong, 1999, pl. 127.