Archaic Vase

Object nr. 415 China, Jiaqing period (1796-1820) Height: 83 cm

- Bonhams London 2012
- Private Collection, France 2002

Condition Report available

Price on request

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Additional Information

Archaic Vase

An exceptionally large trompe l'oeil vase, simulating an archaic bronze vase. It stands on a high foot, with a slightly bulbous body and tall flaring neck. The rim has a band of key-fret pattern, under which hang two beribboned chimes in low relief. The shoulder has a band of upright plantain leaves (jiaoyewen) in sunken relief. Each leaf is surrounded by a thicker greenish glaze and filled in with a speckled purple and turquoise glaze, with incised veining. The handles are bold phoenix heads, in the same thick olive glaze, holding turquoise rings in their beaks. The body has a wide band of the bright speckled turquoise glaze, with an incised geometric diaper pattern (leiwen). An overlay in a thicker smooth olive enamelling, of a meander with stylised confronting kiu dragons, is interspersed with four ruyi shapes. The lower body and high foot are enamelled in the same smooth and thick greenish glaze, with a band of upright stylised leaves ending in ruyi-heads, moulded in low relief. The underside is glazed with no further marks.

The glazes, shape and decoration of this vase were intended make it look like an ancient bronze. This was simulated by using a combination of glazes: a typical olive brown known as 'tea-dust' (chaye mo) represented the bronze. This was achieved by under-firing an iron-oxide glaze which produced a speckled, greenish appearance. It is typically combined with a mottled turquoise and purple glaze, known as 'Robin's Egg', intended to evoke the blue-green patina of ancient metalwork.

This impressive vase, belongs to a group of porcelains simulating archaic bronzes. During the Qianlong reign (1736-1796), collecting all manner of antiques became very popular, which was reflected in the fashion for archaic shapes and decoration during the second half of the 18th century. The Emperor himself, greatly admired objects that were simulations of other materials and had a special liking for theatrical tromp l’oeil pieces. At this time, there were also great technological advancements and a growing range of glazes and enamel colours. This, in combination with keen wealthy patrons, allowed the potters to significantly enlarge their repertoire and to show off their considerable artistic skills. The production of these simulation, obviously carried on into at least the late 18th century.

Some tromp l’oeil – literally meaning fooling the eye - porcelain was so good, that they were difficult to separate from the real thing. Zhu Yan notes in the Taoshuo (Discourse on Ceramics,1774) that 'in fact, among all the works of art in carved gold, embossed silver, chiselled stone, lacquer, mother-of-pearl, bamboo and wood, gourd and shell, there is not one that is not now produced in porcelain, a perfect imitation of the original (fang xiao er xiao).  In 1915, a stone tablet was excavated at the Imperial kiln site at Jingdezhen, titled 'Orders and Memoranda on Porcelain'.  On it Tang Ying, Superintendent in charge of the Imperial porcelain manufacture, talks of his efforts to 'counterfeit' bronze vessels. 

The Meiyintang collection records a vase simulating bronze, wholly in tea-dust, dated and marked Qianlong. The Grandidier collection in Musée Guimet, Paris, holds several pieces simulating bronze including a hu (G 1567 & G 3274), a bowl (G2403) and a large censer (G4120). The Shanghai Museum hold a Gu beker vase with comparable tea-dust and turquoise glazes. The Victoria & Albert Museum, London, also has a vase simulating bronze (

- Chih-en Chen, Fooling the Eye: Trompe l’oeil Porcelain in High Qing China, Les Cahiers de Framespa Nouveaux champs de l’histoire social 31, 2019, p.22-25

- Jonathan Hay, Sensuous Surfaces, London, 2010, p.225-235

- Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection vol 1 & 2,  London, 1994, p.266 nr. 953

- Jessica Rawson, Treasure  From Shanghai: Ancient Chinese Bronzes and Jades, Exhibition Catalogue, British Museum, London, 2009, nr.59

- R. Soame Jenyns, Later Chinese Porcelain : The Ch’ing Dynasty (1644-1912), London, 1965, p. 60

- Good Fortune, Long Life, Health, and Peace: A Special Exhibition of Porcelains with Auspicious Designs, Exhibition Catalogue National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1995, p.99 nr.25

Floris tells a bit about this Archaic Vase

Floris van der Ven