The Qing dynasty emperors shared a fervent passion for ancient bronzes and for ordering contemporary vessels made in similar style. The Kangxi (1662-1722), Yongzheng (1723-35) and Qianlong (1736-95) emperors in particular were important collectors of antiques and great patrons of the arts. The Qianlong emperor, like his predecessor Song Huizong, commissioned numerous catalogues illustrating pieces of his collection, including the Xi Qing gu jian (Mirror of Antiquities [prepared in] the Xi Qing [hall], which was compiled in 1749 and recorded ancient bronzes of the Imperial collection.
A cloisonné Lei vessel of the same size and almost the same design to the current example is in the collection of the musée des Arts décoratifs, Paris (fig.1), illustrated by Beatrice Quette (ed.) in Cloisonné: Chinese Enamels from the Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties, Bard Graduate Center, New York, 2011, p. 99, fig. 5.31. The close similarities of the design and the colour scheme could suggest that they were made to be matched as a pair during the Qianlong emperor’s reign.
In the 1860s, Chinese art pieces were very popular in Europe. The cloisonne enamel vessels in particular were a great source of inspiration to the European deocrative arts. The lei of the musée des Arts décoratifs was donated by Mrs Alexandrine Louise Grandjean in 1923 along with a large number of pieces after she deceased in 1911. Her whole collection was essentially formed in the late 19th century. Like Mrs Grandjean’s vase, our present lei vase was probably brought to Europe by the beginning of the 20th century. See another imperial lei of the same size but with a slightly different colour scheme, from the collection of Juan Jose Amezaga, sold in Christie’s Paris, 13 June 2007, lot 25.