This type of vase is sometimes known as a ‘champion vase’, an appellation translated from the Chinese, ying (eagle) and xiong (bear), describing the two beasts represented, but also forming the pun on the word for ‘champion’ or ‘hero’. Alternatively, the vessel is also known as a ‘nuptial cup’, hejingbei, as it is believed that during the Ming dynasty, it was used as a ritual wine vessel during a wedding ceremony. The double cylinders were filled with wine to be drunk by the bride and groom as part of the marriage rites. These were especially popular during the late-Ming to mid-Qing periods, and were found in jades, bronzes, as well as in cloisonné enamels. A drawing of a bronze champion vase is illustrated in the woodblock printed catalogue Xiqing Gujian, ‘Inspection of Antiques’, which may have provided inspiration for the current type of vases (fig. 1).
The present champion vase is very similar in form and style to a smaller champion vase (17.4 cm. high) dating to the second half of the 17th century in the Uldry Collection, see Chinese Cloisonne: The Pierre Uldry Collection, New York, 1989, no. 208. Compare also two similar but smaller champion vases with covers, one with a single dragon on the cover, illustrated in Chinese Cloisonne, The Clague Collection, Phoenix, 1980, no. 39 (23.8 cm. high), where both sides of the vase are illustrated on the front and back covers; the other with a pair of chilong straddling the cover from the Mandel Collection, sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 30 May 2012, lot 3904 (23 cm. high). It is interesting to note that the distance between the two cylinders on the present vase and the Uldry vase is noticeably narrower than that of the Clague and Mandel examples. It is very likely that the present vase and the Uldry vase were designed without covers.