The subject of boys at play, which represents the wish for fertility and many sons, first gained popularity during the Song dynasty, as seen in the work of the court painter Su Hanchen (1094-1172), and woodblock prints of these paintings may have inspired the later renditions of this theme. During the Ming and Qing periods, this motif decorated not only paintings but ceramics and works of art in various materials. By the later Ming period, the standard number of boys represented became sixteen, as seen on the present jars. The same number can be found on a related Qianlong-marked, lantern-shaped jar in the Shenyang Imperial Palace Museum, illustrated in The Prime Cultural Relics Collected by the Shenyang Imperial Palace Museum - The Chinaware Volume The First Part, Shenyang, 2008, pp. 164-165, no. 5. The Shenyang jar is decorated with a scene of sixteen boys with instruments and firecrackers, with similar enameling of the central scene to the present jars, enclosed by underglaze-blue and iron red-enameled floral borders.
Two Qianlong-marked famille rose jars of globular shape, decorated with a similar scene of sixteen boys to that seen on the present pair, have also been published: one in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - 39 - Porcelains with Cloisonné Enamel Decoration and Famille Rose Decoration, Hong Kong, 1999, p. 106, pl. 92; the other sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 31 May 2017, lot 3030. (Fig. 1)
The combination of the famille rose central scene enclosed by underglaze-blue and enameled borders on the present pair is quite unusual, and can also be found on the aforementioned jar in the Shenyang Imperial Palace Museum. The decoration of bats in flight on the upper border of the present jars, however, imparts additional auspicious meaning to the decorative scheme, and conveys the wish for good fortune.
The shape of the present jars is similar to that of a smaller (14.9 cm. high) Qianlong-marked jar and cover similarly decorated with a scene of numerous boys at play, also in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing, which is illustrated ibid., pl. 146, no. 128. On this jar some of the boys play instruments, but the others are involved in different, playful activities, and the scene is set between ruby-ground, ruyi-head borders. Like the present jars, a band of key fret encircles the foot, as well as the neck, which is shorter than the neck of the present jars.
Two other covered jars with different decoration, but of this exact shape and comparable height, that have a neck similar in height to those of the present jars, have also been published. One, dated Yongzheng but with an apocryphal Xuande mark, is decorated in copper-red and underglaze blue with a main band of phoenixes amidst peony scroll set between borders of bats and clouds, and a band of key fret encircling the foot, is illustrated in Selected Porcelain of the Flourishing Qing Dynasty at the Palace Museum, Beijing, 1994, p. 164, pl. 8. The other, of Qianlong date, which is carved around the sides with dragons amidst clouds and has bats amidst clouds on the cover, all under a celadon glaze, is illustrated in Kangxi. Yongzheng. Qianlong: Qing Porcelain from the Palace Museum Collection, Beijing, 1989, pl. 142.