It is possible that these figures were intended to represent foreigners from West of China's borders such as the imperial pair from the first part of this collection, sold in these Rooms, 13 June 2007, lot 27. As a matter of fact, the position on one knee and the faces on both pairs are quite alike even if they are obviously of different quality. The current figures have protuberant eyes, thin lips, curly or straight hair and moustaches such as the foreigners of lot 27.
It can also be compared to lot 39 of this sale. The three figures holding the vase have the same kind of faces and they are also wearing a similar tiara.
Later variations on this type of kneeling figure used as a support can be seen in cloisonné enamel, such as the pair of pricket candlesticks dated 17th/18th century, sold in our New York Rooms, 28 March 1996, lot 137, where the kneeling foreigners are elegantly dressed in 'brocade vests', wearing tiara and act as the support to the drip pan. Their faces are almost identical to those of the present lot.
See also the pair of standing figures holding a jardiniere, illustrated by M. Beurdeley, L'Amateur Chinois des Han au XXème siècle, Office du Livre, Fribourg, 1966, p.159, fig.88.