Second Half of 18th Century
19½” h. 14¾” w. 9½”d.
This exceptional incense burner is of the “fanghu” type of ceremonial vessels, the forerunners of which are the ritual bronzes of the Zhou dynasty (481 – 222 B.C.). It does not have an impressed reign mark as large sumptuously decorated religious vessels were mostly commissioned to serve as ceremonial furnishing in temples or chapels, and not for celebrating a monarch’s reign. Ormolu ( alloy resembling gold), a popular French rococo style came into being in China during the reign of Emperor Qianlong who loved art and innovation. He invited Europeans to come to his court to help advance in technology and designs in metalwork. The Chinese artisans were encouraged to try out innovations while keeping to the traditional.
Like quality cloisonné of this period, this vessel has a solid heavy bronze body; the wires delineating the contours of the designs are fine, accurately bent and gilded. It has a turquoise-blue color ground in matte finish. The undulating bell shape lid is topped by a quadrangle knop with a trapezoid top. This knop is decorated with floral scrolls, with a “shou” character in the middle and a gilded floral frieze at the hem line. A recessed round gilded base connects the knop to the lid of the vessel.
The lid is decorated with a lotus motif among twining flowers. Embellished in the middle of the lid is a gilded lobed “taohuan” panel pierced with a host of bats surrounding a red enameled “shou” character. These motifs evoke hope for a long life, happiness, and good fortune. Along the border of the vessel is a linked angular pattern in black and gold, meaning “everlasting”. The lid ends with a cobalt blue frieze with a meander-cloud design, symbol of wish for abundance from heaven. A row of gilded notched flanges march down the four corners of the burner. These flanges gleam gold in sunlight, the phenomenon is the essence of Ormolu.
The mouth of the vessel is decorated with a band of floral motifs. The body swells out then tapers down to the base supported by four colorfully gilded bats as legs. A pair of bats are soldered to the top of the burner as handles. Scrolling floral vines cover the surface of the body and is adorned by four many-petaled lotus flowers. This complex flower form, with an ogee shape petal at the top, is typical of the design of the Qing period. Another telltale sign of the period is a colloidal pink showing on some flowers. This pink was not introduced into China until the first quarter of the 18th century. Appearing at the top part of the body of the vase is a design of a bat holding in its mourth a beaded string carrying a “shou” medallion from which dangles two patches with three tassels. This tassel design invokes the crowning decoration on some high official’s hat, making it credible this ceremonial vessel was commissioned by a person of high status to be placed in the chapel of his estate.