This tall, elegant and well-proportioned ewer comprises cloisonne on copper with further gilding (gold-plating). The cloisonne has a background of light blue against which there are motifs in dark blue, red, green, pink, and yellow. The motifs include archaic emblems that hark back to the Warring States period.
The body of the ewer is further decorated with horizontal gilded copper bands that are etched with floral motifs.
Its shape is based on a Tibetan monk’s cap. Hence the form commonly is known as a monk’s cap ewer (Duomuhu). It has a crenulated upper edge; a domed lid with a finial that fits in the top of the ewer; a short ‘S’-shaped spout; and a long gilded chain which emerges from two gilded monster masks on the side of the ewer. The chain is very long – this is because in Tibet, such ewers were used in monasteries and in the houses of aristocrats to serve large quantities of tea and when not in use they were suspended from the wall using the chains.
It was made in China, probably at the end of the 19th century, and is based on earlier examples. (An example of similar height and proportions is in the UK Royal Collection. It is attributed to circa 1700 and is illustrated in Ayers (2016, p. 938).) The base is engraved with an apocryphal Qianlong reign mark. The use of such a mark is common in later pieces. The Qianlong period was known for the quality of its art so later artisans would re-use the mark not to deceive but to emphasise the quality of their pieces.
The imitation of a Tibetan form was common in China. The Qianlong emperor and later emperors were heavily influenced by Tibetan Buddhism and so Tibetan forms and motifs became fashionable in China. Also, such pieces were made in China for export to Tibet and related regions.
Also, the fashion for the re-use of such archaic, Warring States emblems was ignited by the Qianlong Emperor who called for inspiration to be sought from antiquity.
The ewer is in fine condition. There are clear signs of age. There is one area of minor loss to the enamel but this is scarcely noticeable amongst the overall profusion and is consistent with the age of the piece. Overall, it is a splendid and highly decorative piece.
Ayers, J., Chinese and Japanese Works of Art: In the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen, Vol. III, Royal Collections Trust, 2016.
Cosgrove, M., The Enamels of China and Japan: Champleve and Cloisonne, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1974.