Foreigners depicted with large round eyes and noses, thick curly beards and hair have been a popular motif in Chinese art as early as the Tang dynasty (618-906), when the increased presence of foreigners in China brought in new fascination among the Chinese and led to a gradual stylisation of the image of the foreigner in Chinese art. Refer to an unglazed pottery figure of a Central Asian mounted on a horse from the early 8th century, illustrated by M. Medley, T'ang Pottery & Porcelain, London, 1981, p. 55, no. 45. Compare the present candle holders with a pair of cloisonne figures of foreigners with similar stance and facial features, dated to the late Ming period, from the Juan Jose Amezaga Collection, sold at Christie's Paris, 7 December 2007, lot 7; and now in the Robert Chang Collection included in the exhibition, Colourful, Elegant, and Exquisite: A Special Exhibition of Imperial Enamel Ware from Mr. Robert Chang's Collection, Suzhou, 2007, p. 90-91. Another comparable pair of cloisonne enamel and gilt-bronze pricket candlesticks in the form of foreign figures, dated to 18th century, was sold at Christie's London, 8 November 2011, lot 68.
Cloisonne enamel figures of foreigners holding up an object are not confined to the form of candlesticks. Two figures carrying a rectangular censer in the Qing Court Collection is illustrated in Enamels 2: Cloisonne in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Compendium of Collections in the Palace Museum, Beijing 2011, pl. 67. A figure of a foreign tribute bearer holding up a gilt orb and with a similarly designed vest and square base was sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 26 April 1999, lot 561.