Butterfly-shaped inkwell

This copper inkwell is made and painted in vibrant colours to resemble a butterfly. The insect is an auspicious motif in Chinese culture and is often represented in paintings, textiles and other mediums. In addition to signifying joy, butterflies in pairs were also seen as symbols of marital bliss. The art of painting in enamels on copper was introduced from Europe into China during the late Kangxi period (1622-1722), probably by Jesuit missionaries, and came into vogue in the 18th century. The bustling city of Guangzhou, where this inkwell was likely made, was an important production centre of enamelled metalwares for both the domestic and export markets during the Qing dynasty (1644–1911).