Miniature vessels, such as the present lot, were particularly appreciated by the literati class. They were valued for their high artistic content, revealing at once technical perfection and aesthetic refinement combined with multiple layers of symbolism, thus stimulating the senses and the mind at the same time. They were displayed in collector's cabinet's (also referred to as 'multi-tiered' treasure boxes) which were placed in the scholar's studio, as depicted in numerous genre paintings dated from the Ming to Qing periods. With the evolving trend towards displaying aesthetic rather than functional objects in the cabinets, miniaturisation developed reaching its apogee under the reign of Qianlong.
Interestingly, this vase reflects Qianlong's taste for paired objects as well as his interest for archaism. Although the shapes of the vases are reminiscent of Song and Yuan ceramics, and the dragons derive from Eastern Zhou metalwork, this composition was a contemporary creation.
Another almost identical double vase with the same incised four-character mark is in the Clague Collection, exhibited, China's Renaissance in Bronze, Phoenix Art Museum, 25 September 1993 - 30 January 1994, Catalogue, no.40, pp.190-191. A variation on miniature archaistic paired bronze vessels was exhibited, Arts from the Scholar's Studio, The Oriental Ceramic Society of Hong Kong and the Fung Ping Shan Museum, 24 October - 13 December 1986, Catalogue, no.236, p.244 and 245. Also compare a champlev and gilt-bronze enamelled example, dated AD 1786, sold in our Hong Kong Rooms, 26 and 27 April 1998, lot 562; and the pair to it in the Pierre Uldry Collection, also dated AD 1786, illustrated by Helmut Brinker and Albert Lutz, Chinesisches Cloisonn, no.304.