This unusually sized vase featuring fencai enamels, a veritable ode to longevity, is one of the masterpieces cherished by the emperor and aesthete Qianlong.
China, Qianlong period (1736-1795). Lantern vase, called deng long zun, polychrome and gold enamelled porcelain from the pink fencai family, Qianlong’s six-character mark in iron-red in zhuanshu under the base, h. 47.7cm, with base 55 cm, dia.19 cm.
The large porcelain vase called deng long zun is shaped like a lantern. Like a scroll painting being unrolled, its lavish turning décor is discovered step by step, successively showing the Eight Immortal Taoists. The busy scene illustrates their legend’s most famous episode: Ba xian zhu shou, "The Banquet of the Immortals", and, more specifically, their return from visiting Xiwangmu, the Queen Mother of the West. The benevolent creatures must cross the East Sea, which ensures everlasting happiness, using their respective vehicles, either animals or flowers, to make this extraordinary voyage. The recurring theme of the Eight Immortals is one of the most popular symbols of longevity. The whole vase, says expert Alice Jossaume, "abounds with them: shou characters in the medallions, peaches and lingzhi mushrooms, the stag and the pine tree, all summoned to wish their host – the Emperor – a long and happy life." The emperor in question is Qianlong (1736-1795), whose mark is on the base, indicating that the precious vase was intended for the exclusive use of the palace.
With its exceptional size (55 cm, 21.6 in, including the extremely rare original porcelain base) and the quality of its pink, polychrome and gold fencai enamels, the vase marks the creative climax of Qianlong’s reign. He was not only an emperor, but an artist and aesthete as well. A Western influence, perceptible in the use of incised sgraffito decoration in the friezes, can be detected in this and some of his other commissions; the technique was inspired by the Jesuits at Qianlong’s court. The vase of the Immortals is imperial on two counts: under its base, a yellow label with the inscription "tribute from Chongli, number 15" probably means it was a birthday present from the minister Chongli (1840-1907) to Dowager Empress Cixi. A few years later, Captain Antoine Laporte, stationed in Beijing in the early 20th century, must have acquired the vase and brought it back to France, where his family kept it until now.