Published Apr 3 2013, by


The Qianlong emperor (reigned 1736–1795) was well known as a refined collector of the decorative arts, from ceramics and cloisonné enamels to gilt bronzes and glass. His penchant for the latter was likely influenced by the tastes of his grandfather, the great Kangxi (reigned 1662–1722), who in 1698 opened the only imperially supported glass studio in China’s history. The works of art produced by that early eighteenth-century workshop reveal the Chinese penchant for translucent European glass delicately crafted in the Venetian style, whereas the works commissioned later by the Qianlong emperor indicate a shift toward thicker, colored forms with more extensive sculptural decoration.

This stand is an example of the colored glass and carved overlay techniques being practiced in the imperial workshop. The phiale form—with its elevated central medallion, shallow ring-shaped basin, and flaring rounded rim—has been crafted of opaque white glass in a design that emulates those used in the contemporaneous porcelain manufacture at Jingdezhen. The central medal­lion, surface decoration, and ring bands have been added to the basic form in a vibrant rose-pink glass overlay. The pink glass, applied uniformly over the white glass ground, was then carved out in raised relief, cameo style, to accentuate an articulated design in varying shades of pink. The central medal­lion, depicting a large, stylized lotus blossom, is encircled by the meandering floral and leaf scrolls occupying the basin. The wide rim is bordered by two solid rings and displays alternating ruyi, blade, scroll, and boss patterns—motifs that were a popular and appropriate choice for the function of the piece as a stand, possibly for a cup, a candle, or incense. The underside of the base is inscribed, in Chinese regular script, with a four-character Qianlong reign mark, Qianlong nian zhi (made in the Qianlong reign). This mark indi­cates that the overall decorative qualities of this work were appreciated at the very highest levels.