The decoration, shape and size of these vases derive from the famille rose porcelain 'hundred deer' vases of Qianlong date. These porcelain prototypes are in various collections including one in the Beijing Palace Museum, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - 39 - Porcelains with Cloisonn/ae Enamel Decoration and Famille Rose Decoration, Hong Kong, 1999, pl. 85; a pair in the Shanghai Museum, illustrated in Selected Ceramics from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. J. M. Hu, Shanghai, 1989, pl. 67; one in the Nanjing Museum, included in the joint exhibition with The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Qing Imperial Porcelain, 1995, no. 86; and another from the Grandidier Collection in the Mus/aee Guimet, Paris, illustrated in Oriental Ceramics: The World's Great Collections, Tokyo, 1981, vol. 7, pl. 190.
Although the porcelain 'hundred deer' vases simply have deer in a landscape setting, these cloisonn/ae vases include 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 appears on a small number of other 18th century cloisonne 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, Zurich, 1985, pls. 322, 322a-b). A cloisonné enamel hu-shaped vase decorated with deer as well as cranes in a landscape setting, also without handles, was sold at Christie's London, 29 March 2006, lot 309; and another vase with gilt bronze handles from the Major General Lumley Holland Collection, reputedly from the Yuanmingyuan sold at Christie's London, 6 November 2007, lot 97. C.f. a large pair of 'hunder deer' vases, cast with Qianlong marks, sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 30 April 2001, lot 779.Two further examples with handles have been sold at auction; the first at Christie's New York, 19 September 2006, lot 111, and another at Christie's Hong Kong, 28 October 2002, lot 774.
The 'hundred deer' motif is purely Chinese, the landscape depicted contains important symbolic references. Peaches, pomegranates and finger citrus, 'the three abundances' grow amid evergreen. Lingzhi spring up at the foot of mountains. The gambolling and prancing deer are references to the rebus where 'deer' in Chinese is a homophone for emolument or civil service salary; the 'hundred deer' therefore represent the ultimate success, a career in government service in imperial China.