Metal vessels painted in enamels were first produced in Limoges, France during the 15th century, however the techniques and expertise were transmitted to China in the second half of the 17th century by French Jesuit missionaries. In 1693, under Emperor Kangxi’s reign, specialised workshops were established in the Forbidden City to produce metal vessels finely painted in enamels for court use. Enamelled metalwares for both domestic and export markets were soon produced in private workshops in Canton, from which the term ‘Canton enamel’ originates.
This copper alloy teapot is an example of Canton enamel intended for the Chinese market. The brightly coloured decoration is achieved by covering the surface of the metal vessel with a background layer of white enamel paste, which is fired to fuse the materials. The surface is then painted in coloured enamels and fired once more. Much like the western fascination for Chinese art, culture and lifestyle, these European figures and idealised scenes would have appealed to Chinese viewers, for whom this teapot was produced. The strange compositions and uncertain use of perspective in both scenes would suggest that there is no original print source and the painters have assembled elements from European engravings to create an idealised vision of European life. The woman bearing a cherub on her back is depicted with the fontange hair style, an arrangement of curls secured on the top of the head with ribbons which was particularly fashionable at the court of Versailles in the 1680s.