These handsome and extremely rare meiping vases represent the finest of the Ming-style porcelains produced for the court of the Qianlong Emperor. The carefully controlled 'heaping and piling' effect is particularly skillful and has been applied to provide the appropriate archaistic reference without disturbing the overall design. Indeed the control of the cobalt blue in all aspects of the decoration of these vases is of the highest standard.
The 'heaping and piling' effect in the cobalt painting is a reference to greatly admired porcelains of the early 15th century. This classic period also provides the inspiration for the decorative motifs on the current vases. Each of the motifs can be seen on 15th century porcelains, but the way they have been combined, and indeed their more formal style, is characteristic of fine Qianlong imperial porcelain. The variegated floral scroll that fills the major band on these vases has its origins in the variegated scrolls seen in the center of Yongle (AD 1403-24) dishes such as the one in the Tianminlou collection illustrated in The S.C. Ko Tianminlou Collection Chinese Porcelain Part I, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong, 1987, no. 8.
On early 15th century meiping floral scrolls in the major decorative band are usually accompanied by flower sprays around the foot and more sprays or scrolls around the shoulder, as on a Yongle vase in the Tianminlou Collection illustrated ibid., no. 11, and three vases from the Ardebil Collection illustrated by John A. Pope in Chinese Porcelains from the Ardebil Shrine, London, 1981, pl. 51, nos. 29.409, 29.411 and 29.419. A small number of meiping are known bearing Xuande marks (AD 1426-35), which have a variegated scroll in their main decorative band, and petal panels around both base and shoulder, as in the case of a Xuande vase in the Palace Museum, Beijing. See The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - 34 - Blue and White Porcelain with Underglaze Red (I), Hong Kong, 2000, p. 86, no. 83. The arrangement, seen on the current Qianlong vases, of plantain leaves around the foot and petals around the shoulder can be seen on some early 15th century meiping with fruiting sprays in their major band. For an example of this 15th century type in the Ardebil Collection, see John A. Pope, Chinese Porcelains from the Ardebil Shrine, op. cit., pl. 51, no. 29.413. It is this scheme with sprays in the major band that is most often evoked among the blue and white porcelains of the Qianlong reign, as in the case of a vase in the Palace Museum, Beijing illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - 36 - Blue and White Porcelain with Underglaze Red (III), Hong Kong, 2000, p. 131, no. 117.
Meiping vases combining the petals band, plantain band, and scrolling floral major band are rare in both the 15th and the 18th century. A Yongzheng example, also in Ming-style, but with much looser painting style than the current Qianlong vases is in the Palace Museum, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - 36 - Blue and White Porcelain with Underglaze Red (III), op. cit., p. 87, no. 73. A similar decorative scheme appears on a vase decorated in a combination of underglaze copper red and cobalt blue in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing, although it has a lotus scroll, rather than a variegated scroll, illustrated ibid., p. 227, no. 207. A rare example of a Qianlong meiping with all the decorative elements of the current vessels is the vase decorated in underglaze red in pencil style sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 1 November 2004, lot 879. Thus this pair of meiping are exceedingly rare.