This magnificent vase is a very rare example of a cloisonné vessel adopting the form and decoration of a famille rose, or fencai overglaze enamelled porcelain type. So called 'hundred deer' vases are well known and much prized among the porcelains of the Qianlong reign. They are of essentially the same shape as the current cloisonné example and are decorated with lively depictions of deer in landscape. The porcelain examples have handles that are sometimes enamelled in iron red with gilt, as on the example in the Palace Museum, Beijing (illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - 39 - Porcelains with Cloisonné Enamel Decoration and Famille Rose Decoration, Commercial Press, Hong Kong, 1999, pp 98-9, no. 85). Others have blue and gilt handles like the example in the Nanjing Museum (illustrated in Qing Imperial Porcelain of the Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong Reigns, Nanjing Museum and the Art Gallery of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, 1995, no. 86), while a very few have gold handles. While the colour of the handles is variable, they are always of the same archaistic form, and the current cloisonné vase has adopted that same form for its gilt handles.
The theme of 'hundred deer' was adopted on porcelains in the middle Ming period, and can be seen on a Wanli (AD 1573-1620) wucai jar in the Musée Guimet, Paris (illustrated in The World's Great Collections - Oriental Ceramics Vol. 7 - Musée Guimet, Paris, Kodansha, Tokyo, 1981, no. 26) and on the pair of large blue and white Wanli jars given to Queen Christina of Sweden by the Portuguese Ambassador (see The World's Great Collections - Oriental Ceramics Vol. 8 - Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm, Kodansha, Tokyo, 1982, fig. 247). The theme of deer was obviously one close to the Qianlong emperor's heart, as can be seen in numerous court paintings dating to his reign as well as the porcelain 'hundred deer' vases. His appreciation of the theme also extended to cloisonné since a plaque from the collection of S. Soames, decorated with a river landscape through which wander the 'hundred deer' (see Sir Harry Garner, Chinese and Japanese Cloisonné Enamels, Faber & Faber, London, 1962, p. 93 and pl. 77), is inscribed on the back of the plaque with a Qianlong poem in which the emperor refers to the deer with their young in the royal park, and how they are free from fear because they are safe guarded by imperial decree from attack by archers with their arrows.
Although the porcelain 'hundred deer' vases simply have deer in a landscape setting, this cloisonné vase includes both deer and cranes. The deer symbolise both career advancement and also long life, while the cranes are additional symbols of long life. This combination of deer and cranes appear on a small number of other 18th century cloisonné enamelled vessels. Deer running across the landscape and drinking at a stream with cranes flying overhead can, for example, be seen on a large 18th century cloisonné fish bowl in the Uldry Collection (illustrated by H. Brinker and A. Lutz in Chinesisches Cloisonne Die Sammlung Pierre Uldry, Museum Rietberg, Zürich, 1985, pls. 322, 322a-b). Deer and cranes appear relatively rarely on earlier cloisonné enamels, although a cylindrical flower holder with a Jingtai mark and a design of deer and cranes is in the collection of the National Palace Museum (illustrated in Enamel Ware in the Ming and Ch'ing Dynasties, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1999, pp. 68-9, no. 3), and cranes decorate a pair of jardinières and a dish dating to the 15th century in the Pierre Uldry Collection (see Chinesisches Cloisonné Die Sammlung Pierre Uldry, op. cit., pp. 29-30, nos. 28-30).