Handwarmers were used for keeping warm during the winter. Filled with burning coals, the heat escaped through the pierced top. They were made of bronze and other metals as well as the more costly cloisonné enamel and painted enamel, such as the present example.
The fine painting of this handwarmer, the use of figural scenes and the similar palette, are comparable to a handwarmer in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, illustrated in Enamel Ware in the Ming and Qing Dynasties, Taipei, 1999, p. 253. As with the present example, it too has a Qianlong seal mark in ruby-red enamel, but rather than depicting foreigners, the figures appear to be those of scholars. See, also, the example of similar shape with panels of deer and flowers on a flower-decorated yellow ground illustrated by Wan Yi et al, Daily Life in the Forbidden City: The Qing Dynasty, 1644-1912, New York, 1988, p. 152, pl. 209. A blue-ground enamel handwarmer of similar shape included in the exhibition, Chinese Painted Enamels of the 18th Century, The Chinese Porcelain Company, New York, October 1993, no. 23, is identified as being of Guangzhou manufacture, and made for the domestic rather than the export market. This opinion is also shared by Yang Boda in his discussion of a similar pink-ground handwarmer included in the exhibition, Tributes from Guangdong to the Qing Court, The Art Gallery, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, 1987, no. 47, where he states, p. 54, that the handwarmer was a "typical Guangzhou product" in the Qianlong period. He also notes that they were tribute items to the court.