The series of European subjects painted at the Palace enameling workshops during the Qianlong reign were influenced to some extent by European enamels and other arts sent to China from the Kangxi period onwards for presentation to the Emperor. As a rule, however, the designs themselves were often drawn up by Jesuit missionaries based upon their own knowledge of Western paintings. This particular subject, and the genre it represents, are of women, often with children, in vaguely classical clothing which do not appear to be based upon any particular style or period. The lack of attention to accurate fashion details for any particular period may reflect the disinterest of the missionaries in such mundane matters. This marriage of motifs is also found on an enamel-on-metal cup and saucer illustrated in Masterpieces of Chinese Enamel Ware in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, pl. 35, where the main sides of the cup and well of the saucer are painted with European figures within a shaped panel and the cavetto of the saucer is painted with a mille fleurs pattern on a white ground. Another cup painted with three circular panels of European figures on a mille fleurs ground is illustrated in the exhibition catalogue by M. Gillingham, Chinese Painted Enamels, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, 1978, p. 13, no. 4. The mille fleurs ground is also seen on an enameled gold snuff bottle illustrated by R. Kleiner, in Chinese Snuff Bottles from the Collection of Mary and George Bloch, no. 3.
See a very similar enamel-on-copper snuff bottle painted with European figures on a yellow ground with stylized floral scroll, in Moss, Graham and Tsang, The Art of the Chinese Snuff Bottle. The J & J Collection, no. 172. See also, an enameled glass snuff bottle with panels of European figures on the main sides, puce-enameled landscapes on the narrow sides and a mille fleurs design on the shoulders, in Chinese Snuff Bottles. The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, no. 17. A comparable enameled glass snuff bottle with European figures is illustrated in Chinese Snuff Bottles. A Miniature Art from the Collection of Mary and George Bloch, no. 14. Two bottles with Chinese figures are illustrated in Snuff Bottles. The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, no. 16; and in R. Kleiner, Chinese Snuff Bottles from the Collection of Mary and George Bloch, no. 12.
Puce enameled panels, similar to the narrow side medallions here, were among a variety of enameled pieces imported from Europe to intrigue the Court and to instruct the Palace enamelers. They inspired Chinese enamels of small vignettes in this palette. The everyday scenes were usually adopted for minor panels but were occasionally used as principal decoration on enameled metal, glass or porcelain. A copper and gold snuff bottle enameled in puce with side cartouches of figures in a European village scene is illustrated by C. Lawrence, in Miniature Masterpieces from the Middle Kingdom. The Monimar Collection of Chinese Snuff Bottles, no. 4. A gold snuff bottle in the form of a magnolia blossom enameled with alternating panels of ruby-red landscapes and mille fleurs in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing, is illustrated in Snuff Bottles. The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, no. 135.
For two enamel-on-copper snuff bottles with ruby enamel landscape panels on each main side, see Snuff Bottles. The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, p. 122, no. 175; and D. Low, More Treasures from the Sanctum of Enlightened Respect, pp. 4-5, no. 2. See also, a snuff bottle painted with a continuous scene formerly from the J & J Collection, sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 25 April 2004, lot 837. A mirror image of the J & J bottle is also illustrated in Snuff Bottles. The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, no. 174.
Like those on the J & J bottle cited above, the panels on this bottle are surrounded by raised metal frames, rare on painted enamel snuff bottles. The metal bodies for painted enamels were probably made by the same workshops that made bodies for cloisonné enamels. The turquoise-blue ground on the base is an unusual feature but occurs on a few other Palace enamels of the Qianlong period.