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    Sale 2711

    The Imperial Sale, Important Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art

    27 May 2009, Hong Kong

  • Lot 1825

    A FINE AND VERY RARE BLUE AND WHITE 'DRAGON' BOTTLE VASE

    Price Realised  

    Estimate

    A FINE AND VERY RARE BLUE AND WHITE 'DRAGON' BOTTLE VASE
    YONGZHENG SIX-CHARACTER MARK WITHIN DOUBLE-CIRCLES AND OF THE PERIOD (1723-1735)

    The finely potted vase supported on a domed foot below a horizontal rib, rising to a tall cylindrical neck with two further ribs below a cup-shaped mouth, the body painted with two sinuous five-clawed dragons writhing amidst cloud scrolls on a ground of waves and whirlpools above rocks, the neck painted with flowerheads on a wave-pattern-ground broken at the shoulder by a band of half-flower heads reserved on a blue ground, two horizontal white ribs at the neck, the mouth painted with four floral scrolls, the foot with petal panels and florets reserved on a blue-ground, the reign mark written within a recessed base, the glaze of a soft blue tinge stopping neatly at the foot revealing the smooth pale body
    10 7/8 in. (27.5 cm.) high, box


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    An identical vase in the Beijing Palace Museum collection is illustrated in Qing Dai Yu Yao Ciqi, I, Forbidden City Publishing House, Beijing, 2005, p.24-25 (fig.1).

    A second vase, in the W. W. Winkworth Collection, was sold at Sotheby's London, 12 December 1972, lot 99, and again at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 31 October 1974, lot 198, now in the Au Bak Ling collection.

    The most unusual shape of this vase appears to owe a considerable amount to a bronze original, probably a holy water flask. The styling of this vase is particularly unusual with the non-functional double ribs around the neck and cup-shaped rim. The most likely explanation for this stylistic detail is that it revives what would have been a metal flange, to assist a user to hold it when pouring water from the bottle. Holy water bottles are recorded in porcelain from the Yongle period onwards; a fragmentary flask, described as a holy water jar and measuring 27 cm. high, was excavated from the Yongle-period strata at Zhushan, cf. Ceramic Finds from Jingdezhen, Fung Ping Shan Museum, Hong Kong, 1992, Catalogue, fig. 201. The shape continued through the Ming dynasty, with rare blue and white examples recorded from the Xuande and Wanli periods; a turquoise-ground Fahua vase of similar shape is illustrated by R. L. Hobson, The Wares of the Ming Dynasty, 1923, front cover.

    The form seems to have been revived during the Yongzheng period, probably as part of a fashion in archaism, which drew on ceramics and bronzes readily available in Beijing as design models for potters responding to the taste for antiques at the Imperial court. Compare a Yongzheng-marked vase of closely related shape, with a crackled glaze imitating guanyao, illustrated by J. Ayers in the Baur Collection, Catalogue, vol. III, no. A348, which the author suggests may be based on a Song or Ming bronze original. Compare also to a flambé-glazed vase of this form, illustrated in Kangxi, Yongzheng, Qianlong, Hong Kong, 1989, p. 257, pl. 86.

    The expert rendition of the painting is of particular note on this vase. The finely pencilled swirling waves are executed in a blue of much lighter tone than the saturated cobalt-blue dragons and provides an attractive contrast which places the dragons in prominence on an otherwise busy ground.

    Provenance

    Robert Chang collection, sold at Christie's Hong Kong, Kangxi, Yongzheng, Qianlong, Imperial Wares from the Robert Chang Collection, 2 November, 1999, lot 513


    Pre-Lot Text

    AN EXCEPTIONAL BLUE AND WHITE YONGZHENG DRAGON VASE
    ROSEMARY SCOTT, INTERNATIONAL ACADEMIC DIRECTOR, ASIAN ART

    The distinctive form of this superbly painted vase appears to have been greatly appreciated by the Yongzheng emperor, since it was made in a number of different colours during his reign. Amongst the Yongzheng vases of this type still preserved in the Palace Museum, Beijing, are a monochrome copper red example (illustrated in Qing dai yuyao ciqi, volume 1, part II, Forbidden City Publishing, Beijing, 2005, pp. 40-41, no. 10) (fig. 1); an example with flambé glaze (illustrated ibid., pp. 298-299, no. 135); an example with imitation Ge type glaze and three small biscuit-fired rams on the foot (illustrated ibid, pp. 368-369, no. 170); and a white glazed example with extended foot and two three-dimensional figures standing on either side of the shoulder (illustrated ibid, pp. 198-199, no. 85). A fifth Yongzheng example of this form in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing, is identical to the current vase, being decorated in underglaze blue with a five-clawed and a three-clawed dragon amongst waves, sharing the same minor decorative bands as the current vase (illustrated ibid., pp. 24-25, no. 2). The only other Yongzheng blue and white vase of this form and decoration that appears to have been published is the vessel formerly in the collection of W.W. Winkworth, and now in the Au Bak Ling collection.

    The form of these vases, with widely flared foot and two low-relief 'bow-string' lines around the neck, may have been inspired by holy water flasks of the early Ming dynasty, of the type represented by lot 1803 in the current catalogue. The holy water flasks, associated with Buddhism, have a flange around the neck, and it may be that the two narrow, low-relief bands around the neck of the current vessel and its counterparts are vestiges of that flange. It is interesting to note that on a minyao holy water bottle with underglaze blue decoration, which was excavated from a tomb at Jingdezhen dated to the Xuande-Zhengtong period (illustrated in Zhongguo taoci chuanji 19 Jingdezhen minjian qinghua ciqi, Shanghai renmin meishu chubanshe, 1983, no. 12), the flange is reduced in size and above it is a narrow low-relief band that could have suggested the double band to the later potters. Whether the early Ming dynasty vessel was used for holy water or for herbs is not certain, but the Yongzheng vessels appear to have been used as flower vases.

    The choice of decorative motifs on the current vase is particularly interesting. Around the neck of the vessel is a beautifully painted design of blossoms floating on the waves. This design, is known in Chinese as luo hua liu shui , fallen flowers on flowing water. This phrase, which comes from a Tang dynasty poem, caught the imagination of artists, and the theme appears regularly in paintings and on the decorative arts. The annotated version of the Gegu yaolun , compiled by Wang Zuo in 1459, mentions silk brocade from Suzhou being made with this design. It can be seen on imperial porcelain as early as the Chenghua reign (1465-87), when it was used to decorate doucai cups (see Tsui Museum of Art, A Legacy of Chenghua, Hong Kong, 1993, pp. 270-271, no. C19). The design was taken up once more on doucai porcelains of the Kangxi and Yongzheng reigns, such as the delicate bowl in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing (illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum 38 Porcelains in Polychrome and Contrasting Colours, Commercial Press, Hong Kong, 1999, p. 223, no. 204). As can be seen in the current vase, the design was also applied to blue and white imperial porcelains in the Yongzheng reign.

    The theme of the decoration on the body of the vase is even more interesting, and shows two dragons amongst waves. The upper dragon has five claws, while the lower dragon, who looks up at him, has only three claws. The five-clawed dragon represents the emperor, while it is likely that the three-clawed dragon represents the crown prince, who is receiving instruction from his father. Parallels can be drawn between this design and the famous hanging scroll on silk, preserved in the Palace Museum, Beijing, entitled Spring's peaceful message, which was painted by the Italian Jesuit missionary artist Giuseppe Castiglione, known at the Chinese court as Lang Shining (illustrated in The Qianlong Emperor - Treasures from the Forbidden City, National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, 2002, p. 30-31, no. 2). The painting shows a younger man bending slightly from the waist in a gesture of respect, and receiving a floral spray from an older man. The majority of scholars believe that this painting is intended to depict Prince Hongli (the future Qianlong emperor) receiving the sprig of blossom from his father, the Yongzheng emperor. Certainly the Qianlong emperor identified himself as the young man in an inscription which he wrote on the painting in 1782, when he was 71 years old. Both the painting on silk and the decoration on the current porcelain vase suggest the respect of the young prince for his father, the emperor, and possibly anticipates the transfer of the mandate of heaven and the responsibility for the good of the empire that went with it. Assuming that this is the correct interpretation of the decoration on the vase, then this vessel and the two other known examples must have been ordered by the emperor to commemorate some special occasion.

    THE PROPERTY OF AN AMERICAN GENTLEMAN


    Exhibited

    Christie's London, An Exhibition of Important Chinese Ceramics from the Robert Chang Collection, 2-14 June 1993, Catalogue, no. 78