The inscription on the current vase may be translated as follows:
'After Chaiyao, Guanyao is the finest and highest quality ware - exceptionally rare and difficult to fire
When you touch its surface, the lustrous glaze is so fine and delicate, and its size is well suited to the scholar's desk
It is easier to carry this vase when both handles are tied with a string, and contemplating this vase will bring relaxation
Ceramics of square shape are much more difficult to produce than those of rounded section, and taking the time to appreciate this vase will bring calm'.
This beautifully made, small, square-section vase with twin lugs (fanghu), reflects the interest in archaism that flourished in the Ming dynasty and was taken up with enthusiasm by the Qing emperors. Indeed, this vase has two aspects to its archaism. On the one hand its form is based upon a metal vessel of the Bronze Age, while its glaze imitates the Guan wares made for the Southern Song court. Interestingly, the fanghu form was also copied in ceramics during the Song dynasty, and Southern Song Guan ware examples have been preserved in both of the major Chinese palace collections. An example from the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing, is illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - 33 - Porcelain of the Song Dynasty (II), Hong Kong, 1996, pp. 6-7, no. 3.
The Beijing palace collection also contains some 18th century ceramic fanghu vessels with glazes imitating Song dynasty wares. A vase bearing a Qianlong mark with a glaze which copies Northern Song Ru ware is illustrated ibid., vol. 37, Monochrome Porcelain, Hong Kong, 1999, p. 238, no. 216, while a Yongzheng vase with imitation Guan ware glaze, which is nearer in proportions to the current vessel, is illustrated in the same volume, p. 227, no. 205. A small vase of very similar proportions to the current vessel, and also bearing a Guan-type glaze is in the collection of the Harvard Art Museum, to which it was donated in 1946. Unlike the current vase, the Harvard vase has a molded design under the glaze on the lower neck and shoulder, but like the current vase, it bears a Qianlong inscription incised into the glaze on its base. The date of the Harvard inscription is 1783, while that on the current vase is 1775.
This vase was included in the exhibition Arts de la Chine Ancienne, Musée de l'Orangerie des Tuileries, Paris, 1937, in case V of the Ceramics Room as exhibit 496. A photograph taken at the time of the exhibition shows the vase on the upper shelf of a case mainly occupied by pieces from the famous collection of Sir Percival David.