A Rare Cloisonné Peony Vase
This vase showcases the expert craftsmanship and sophisticated tastes of the Chinese Qing court. Influenced by Middle Eastern techniques, Chinese cloisonné enamel vessels were produced as early as the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368). However, those objects were smaller in scale and included censers, jarlets, seal paste boxes, and dishes.
The technique for crafting cloisonné is extremely time-consuming. It involves affixing metal wire designs on top of a bronze body. These wires form compartments are then filled in with different colored enamels to create scenes like florals, landscapes, and animals. It wasn’t until the 17th and 18th centuries that larger cloisonné vessels were more available in China. During this time, there was an increased demand from the official class and the export market for cloisonné wares. These types of vessels had a greater range of colors and designs than typical bronze objects, and they were also significantly more durable than porcelain.
The present cloisonné vase is rare for its large size and auspicious Chinese motifs. Decorated on a light blue lattice ground are large flowers with Western-influenced shading. One side features peonies, which represent wealth and social status. The other side depicts chrysanthemums, symbolizing longevity. The vase’s finial is cast as a lingzhi fungus, which also signifies long life. It is accented with well-cast bronze highlights that were fashionable during the 18th and 19th centuries. On the shoulder are four fantastic bird-like beasts, and functioning as the vase’s feet are four mythical dragons. Hence this vase combines traditional Chinese auspicious motifs with contemporary decorative trends.
Cloisonné enamel vases of this type and size are rare, but a matching pair sold at Christie’s New York, Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, 13-14 September 2018, lot 1218. A similar example is also illustrated in The Prime Cultural Relics Collected by Shenyang Imperial Palace Museum, Wanjuan chuban gongsi, pg. 170, no. 14.