This extraordinary vase has all the characteristics of Qianlong period wares, as evident not only from its impressive size, but also the sumptuousness of its decoration. This is most apparent in the dazzling combination of enamelled colours used. Despite the density of decoration, each motif stands out quite distinctly because of the contrast in colours, in particular the iron-red of the bats against the rich turquoise ground. This vase also illustrates the popular convention of the Qianlong period in the use of strong enamels as background colours, and in this case, the turquoise enamel serves to enhance the overall decoration.
Ceramicists from the official workshops were encouraged to experiment, and the technique of porcelain imitating other material found favour with the emperor who was fascinated with the curious and archaic. The designs outlined in gilt against turquoise on the present vase produces the effect of porcelain imitating cloisonné enamel. In cloisonné enamel, raised lines are applied to create 'cloisons' on the body of a metal vessel which are then filled in with coloured glass paste and fired. On the present vase, the gilt outlines enclose enamelled colours in emulation of the cloisonné effect.
The layout of the vase has been carefully planned, so that the bats and clouds are evenly spaced around the vase. Each bat is distinctively individual, delicately detailed in shades of iron-red and painted in different poses, with some swooping upwards, diving down, shown in profile, flying towards the viewer, and even away from the viewer, so that only the back of the bat is seen. As with the idea of porcelain imitating other material, the Qianlong emperor was also very fond of all things auspicious. The bat is a common motif in Chinese ceramics of the Qing dynasty as its pronunciation fu is a homophone for 'good fortune'. The theme is further highlighted by the emblems that the bats carry, which include peaches, lingzhi, pomegranate, cash symbols, finger citrus, musical stones, wan symbols and other lucky emblems.
The dragon handles are also superbly rendered with great attention to details, such as the ribbed effect of their thin muscular bodies and the gilt-painted scales on their backs and curling tails. These handles also appear on other Qianlong-marked vases, but none as well executed as on the present lot. Cf. the handles on a doucai vase from the Beijing Palace Museum, illustrated in Kangxi Yongzheng Qianlong, 1989, p. 389, no. 70; and those on a turquoise-ground vase comparable to the present lot in its decoration of iron-red bats carrying auspicious emblems, sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 16 November 1988, lot 376. Compare also a turquoise-ground bottle vase decorated with the same colourful clouds but moulded with an iron-red dragon wrapped around the body, from the Fonthill Heirlooms and sold in these Rooms, The Imperial Sale, 28 April 1996, lot 55. Another comparable baluster vase decorated with chilong dragons with bifurcated tails among similar cloud-scrolls on a turquoise ground, was sold in our London Rooms, 16 December 1996, lot 12.