The decoration, shape and size of this current pair of 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 Porcelains with Cloisonne Enamel Decoration and Famille Rose Decoration, The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, vol. 39, Hong Kong, 1999, pl. 85; and an example offered in the Imperial Sale, Christie's Hong Kong, 30 May 2012, lot 3990. These so-called 'hundred deer' vases are well known and much prized among the porcelains of the Qianlong reign.
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 Musee Guimet, Paris (illustrated in The World's Great Collections - Oriental Ceramics Vol. 7 - Musee Guimet, Paris, Kodansha, Tokyo, 1981, no. 26). 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 cloisonne 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 Cloisonne 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 present pair of cloisonne 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 appear on a small number of other 18th century cloisonne enamelled vessels. A comparable vase from the George Walter Vincent Smith Collection, for example, is illustrated by B. Quette, Cloisonne: Chinese Enamels from the Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasties, New York, Paris, New Haven and London, 2011, pl. 139. Deer running across the landscape and drinking at a stream with cranes flying overhead can be seen on a large 18th century cloisonne 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). Deer and cranes appear relatively rarely on earlier cloisonne 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 jardinieres and a dish dating to the 15th century in the Pierre Uldry Collection (see Chinesisches Cloisonne Die Sammlung Pierre Uldry, op. cit., pls. 28-30).
A single vase of the same form decorated with deer in a landscape from the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum was included in the exhibition Cloisonne: Chinese Enamels from the Yuan, Ming and Qing Dyansties, Bard Graduate Center, New York, 2011 and illustrated in the Catalogue, no. 139. Another similar example to the current vases was sold at Christie's Paris, 14 June 2006, lot 70; and another, at Christie's London, 6 November 2007, lot 97. A pair of cloisonne vases of similar size and design but without handles was sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 27 May 2008, lot 1876.