The 'hundred deer' motif was very popular as the landscape depicted contains important symbolic references. The subject of deer has a long history in Chinese art as it refers to the rebus where the Chinese word for 'deer' 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. The deer is also associated with Daoism and the Star God of Longevity, Shoulao, while the inclusion of peaches and lingzhi fungus in the decoration is further symbolic of longevity. As such, the subject-matter of the present vase alludes to a multitude of auspicious connotations.
It is unusual to find Qianlong 'hundred deer' vases of this shape with blue-enamel handles, the majority have iron-red and gilt handles. However, there is a near identical vase, possibly the pair to this one, with blue handles from the Iwasake family collection, which is illustrated in Seikado Bunko Bijutsukan, 1992, fig. 61 and again by J. Ayers and M. Sato, Ceramic Art of the World, vol. 15, Japan, 1983, pl. 225; another blue-handled vase from the Nanjing Museum, was included in the Art Gallery, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, joint exhibition, Qing Imperial Porcelain of the Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong Reigns, 1995, Catalogue, no. 86.
Other hu-shaped vases with this exquisite design, but with iron-red handles, are in various museum and private collections: one from the Beijing Palace Museum is illustrated in Falangcai, Fencai: Porcelains with Cloisonne Enamel Decoration and Famille Rose Decoration, The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Hong Kong, 1999, pl. 85; a pair is in the Shanghai Museum, illustrated in Selected Ceramics from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. J.M. Hu, Shanghai, 1989, pl. 67; while a single one, also in the Shanghai Museum, is illustrated in Chogoku Toji Zenshu, vol. 21, Kyoto, 1981, pl. 103; one in the Osaka Museum is illustrated in Ming and Qing Ceramics and Works of Art, Japan, 1980, p. 43, pl. 195; a vase included in the Hong Kong Museum of Art exhibition The Wonders of the Potter's Palette, 1984, is illustrated in the Catalogue, no. 71; and another from the Grandidier Collection in the Musee Guimet, Paris, is illustrated in Oriental Ceramics, The World's Great Collections, Kodansha Series, Tokyo, 1981, vol. 7, pl. 190.
Several of these vases have also been sold at auction, including one from the British Rail Pension Fund, which had been exhibited on loan at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and the Dallas Museum of Art, and was sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 16 May 1989, lot 89. More recently, a vase of this pattern sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 1 November 1999, lot 398.