Although blue and white vases of this form and design are known, no other examples combining underglaze blue decoration with enamelled panels appear to have been published. The motifs in the enamelled panels have been incised into the porcelain body. After firing the ground was covered with brilliant yellow enamel and the motifs picked out in rich green. The motifs in the main panels are all auspicious fruiting sprays. They comprise the 'three abundances' - peach (abundant longevity), pomegranate (abundant progeny), and Buddha hand citron (abundant good fortune). The fourth panel on each side contains persimmons, the fruit popularly given at New Year because its golden colour represents a wish for riches. The underglaze blue decoration has been painted with speckles to suggest the 'heaped and piled' effect of early Ming dynasty wares.
The hu form of this vase originates in bronze. Many vessels of the basic hu form were made in various ceramic wares. However, the particular form of this hu vase is an interesting one. On each side the body of the vase is quartered, and at the meeting point of the dividing lines is a recessed lozenge. This feature undoubtedly took its inspiration from vessels such as the late Western Zhou (c. 900-800 BC) hu illustrated by D. Lion-Goldschmidt and J-C Moreau-Gobard in Chinese Art - Bronzes, Jade, Sculpture, Ceramics, Phaidon, Oxford, 1980, p. 66, no. 37. This bronze shares with the current porcelain vessel a flat surface in the panels, a band of decoration above the quartered panels and another below the rim. The bronze also has an undulating serpentine band around the flaring foot, which presages the pendant ruyi band on the foot of the porcelain vase. The source of this quartering and lozenge device on the Zhou bronze may, in turn, be seen on a Shang dynasty bronze illustrated by M. Loehr (Ritual Vessels of Bronze Age China, The Asia Society, New York, 1968, pp. 82-3, no. 33), on which the development of the taotie mask has begun to provide the quartering lines, and the creature is already shown with a lozenge-shaped boss in the centre of its forehead. Both of these bronzes have tubular handles decorated with animal masks, but a third bronze vessel, excavated at Lintongxian and illustrated by W. Watson (The Arts of China to AD 900, Yale University Press, New Haven/London, 1995, p. 28, fig. 53c), which shares the quartering and lozenges, has zoomorphic handles with loose suspended rings. This hu, which dates to the Western Zhou period, has decorated panels. Zoomorphic (in this case ram's head) handles also appear on an early Western Zhou lidded hu with similar decorative scheme, and swing handle, known as the 'You fu Gui' hu because of its inscription, in the Shanghai Museum (Ancient Chinese Bronzes in the Collection of the Shanghai Museum, Hong Kong Museum of Art, 1983, pp. 90-91, no. 27).
The current porcelain vessel emulates the essentials of the bronze form, but instead of having a raised, boss-like, lozenge, the lozenge is recessed. The handles are zoomorphic, but are not closely related to any of the bronze forms. Interestingly, this version of the hu form also appears in monochromes of the Qing period, and one with a Ge-type glaze dating to the Yongzheng reign, has handles that may imitate the ram's head handles of the Shanghai Museum bronze hu. Loose ring handles appear on a porcelain vase of this form with teadust glaze, sold in our Hong Kong rooms (29 September 1992, lot 533). A Yongzheng porcelain teadust-glazed vase of this form in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing has handles of the same form as the current vase (Qing Porcelain of Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong Periods from the Palace Museum Collection, Forbidden City Publishing/Woods Publishing, Hong Kong, 1989, p. 298, no. 127).
Also in the Collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing, is a blue and white porcelain vase of the Qianlong reign, which is very similar in style to the current vase (The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - 35 - Blue and White Porcelain with Underglaze Red II, Commercial Press, Hong Kong, 2000, p. 152, no. 138). This vase shares with the current vessel its main decorative theme. The handles are of the same form and the panels on the body of the vessel contain sprays, although the blue and white vase has both fruiting and flowering sprays, whereas the current vase has only fruiting sprays. A further blue and white vase sharing the form, handles and quartered decoration was formerly in the collection of Baron Hisaya Iwasaki (sold in New York 1 June 1993, lot 383). The Iwasaki example has no decoration in the panels or the recessed lozenge. Four other Qianlong blue and white vases of similar form and with similarly-shaped handles, but with elaborate floral scrolls covering the main body area, have been published. One is in the collection of the Tianjin Museum (Porcelains from the Tianjin Municipal Museum, Cultural Relics Publishing/Woods Publishing, Hong Kong, 1993, no. 165). A second vase of this type is in the collection of the Shanghai Museum and was exhibited in Goteborg (Den Bla Draken, Rohsska Museet, Goteborg, 1995, p. 64, no. 60). A third, similar, blue and white Qianlong hu vase, formerly in the Winkworth Collection, was sold in London 12th December 1972, lot 83. The fourth was offered in Hong Kong on 28 March, 1998, lot 739.
This vase was formerly in the collection of The Hon. Mrs. Bruce, who sold it in 1956 (London February 14th 1956, lot 97).