This small footed circular dish is made of copper and is completely covered with enamel, except for the rim and the bottom of the foot, revealing the color of the material. The base is covered with white enamel and bears the Qianlong reign mark in four characters in blue enamel.
The basin and the rim display a landscape of pavilions in the mountains. Two bridges and a covered gallery on stilts connect the pavilions to the riverbank and to other buildings outside, evoking a palace complex. Particular attention was paid to the perspective, with the shoreline in the foreground and the blue silhouette of the mountain peaks in the distance. The season chosen is autumn, judging by the reddened maples, the bare trees and those with yellow foliage. The details of traditional Chinese architecture have been accurately depicted, with sweeping roofs and canopies supported by intricate wooden frameworks. The rim of the dish is outlined with three decorative bands of yellow ruyi scepters’ heads, red geometric patterns and blue grecians. On the reverse, the rim is highlighted by blue, green and red enamel fillets and a frieze of blue ruyi scepters’ heads.
This piece is emblematic of the art of painted enamel in China, at its peak during the Qianlong reign. A layer of opaque white enamel is applied directly to the smooth surface of copper objects. Then, polychrome enamels are applied and the piece is fired. Painted enamels are called yangci (“foreign porcelain”) in the Chinese language, although this production was intended for export as well as for the domestic market or the use of the Beijing court.
Many painted enamels show Western landscapes and figures. However, the uniqueness of this dish lies in the completely Chinese nature of the landscape. The way the colors are applied in very thin layers to represent water and clouds is reminiscent of painting.
Bibliography: A Qianlong-marked enameled wine vase in the collections of the Forbidden City Museum display a similar style of decoration. See: Compendium of Collections in the Palace Museum. Painted Enamels in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Beijing: Anhui Fine Arts Publishing House, 2011, no. 115.