Previously sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 1 November 1999, lot 382; and again at Christie's Hong Kong, 27 October 2003, lot 636.
The dragon motif is perhaps the most important in Chinese ceramic decorative repertory being symbolic of Imperial power, and its stylistic treatment on the present vase combines the very best characteristics of mythical images from earlier Yuan and Ming periods. It is interesting to note the extraordinary expression and stance of the dragons painted on the present vase, which rendered on such a massive spherical body would have been remarkably difficult to achieve. In this instance these mythical creatures are each depicted with their own playful expressions, and their elongated scaly bodies are executed with precise movements of the brush giving an impression of the dragons' rhythmic motion as they straddle around the globular body.
Globular vases of this massive size and excellent quality are extremely rare. From the painting style with its measured attempt to replicate the 'heaping and piling' effect, and its globular form, it is clear that the present vase was produced as an appreciation of the early Ming dynasty prototypes. Compare with three Ming examples, each decorated with a single, back-ward looking, three-clawed dragon. The first of these bearing a six-character Xuande mark is illustrated in Sekai Toji Zenshu, Japan, 1976, vol. 14, p. 29, no. 19; an unmarked example dated to the Xuande period, from the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in Qinghua Youlihong, Part I, Commerical Press, 2000, p. 90, no. 87; and the similarly dated unmarked example from the National Palace Museum, Taipei, illustrated in Blue-and-white Ware of the Ming Dynasty, Book II (part I), Hong Kong, 1963, p. 26, no. 3.
When compared with those of the Ming period, it is apparent that the intention of the Qing potters was not to entirely replicate an earlier decorative style. The globular vases of the Ming period are comparably smaller in size, their cylindrical necks are shorter and slightly flared to the mouth rim. By the Qing period, the overall design has become more ostentatious; and the most notable differences are found in the depiction of the dragon. The dragons painted on the present vase are representative of the Qing type having shed their long forelock, the nose is now shortened and more pointed, jawline squared, horns are more stag-like, and longer whiskers. Nonetheless, they still retain their sinuous and finely-scaled body.
A closely related vase of this shape and size, designed with dragons above turbulent waves, from the Naval and Military Club and Jingguantang collections, was sold in these Rooms, 3 November 1996, lot 553. Also compare smaller versions of globular vases of the Yongzheng and Qianlong periods where dragons are depicted weaving through misty clouds, such as the Yongzheng-marked tianqiuping illustrated by J. Spencer, Chang Foundation Inaugural Catalogue, Taiwan, 1990, p. 54; and the Qianlong-marked example of the same pattern sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 29 October 2000, lot 4.