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A RARE YELLOW-GROUND GREEN-ENAMELED 'DRAGON' VASE
PROPERTY FROM A NEW ENGLAND COLLECTION
A RARE YELLOW-GROUND GREEN-ENAMELED 'DRAGON' VASE

QIANLONG INCISED SIX-CHARACTER SEAL MARK AND OF THE PERIOD (1736-1795)

Details
A RARE YELLOW-GROUND GREEN-ENAMELED 'DRAGON' VASE
QIANLONG INCISED SIX-CHARACTER SEAL MARK AND OF THE PERIOD (1736-1795)
The slim baluster body finely engraved with a single, lively, scaly five-clawed dragon, enameled in emerald-green on the translucent egg yolk-yellow ground, striding above a border of swirling and breaking waves, enameled in two contrasting tones of green, the trumpet neck detailed with scrolling ruyi clouds on either side between a pair of tubular handles with narrow borders of key fret, the splayed foot pierced with two horizontal slots, the nianhao incised on the base which is also covered with a yellow glaze
12 in. (30.5 cm.) high, box

Lot Essay

The combination of yellow and green for the decoration of the whole surface of porcelain vessels appeared at the imperial kilns at Jingdezhen during the early 15th century. Excavations at Zhushan have revealed dishes from the Xuande (AD 1425-36) stratum which have a yellow ground, against which are shown green dragons amongst clouds. See Xuande Imperial Porcelain Excavated at Jingdezhen, Chang Foundation, Taipei, 1998, p. 78, no. 73. In fact these Xuande dishes are not only important for their coloration, but also for the fact that the colors are separated by fine relief lines in fahua style. On the current vase, however, the colors are separated by incised lines, which also provide the details on some of the motifs. The combination of green and yellow, both glaze/enamel colors which were low-firing and thus had to be applied after the initial porcelain firing, remained a favorite with the Chinese court throughout the Ming and Qing dynasties, even becoming part of the sumptuary laws. The current vase is unusual in that two greens, rather than one, are used to excellent effect within the decoration against the rich yellow ground.
The inspiration of the form of the current vase probably originally came from archaic bronze hu-shaped vessels, particularly those dated to the Western Zhou period (1100-771 BC) cast with a pair of pierced slots above the splayed foot. An example of this type is a wine vessel dated to the mid-Western Zhou period, which was excavated in 1975 from Baijiacun in Shaanxi province and is illustrated in Zhongguo Wenwu Jinghua Dacidian - Qingtong juan, Shanghai, 1995, p. 134, no. 464. A somewhat broader, lobed, ceramic version of the shape also appears amongst Song dynasty Guan wares, such as the vase in the National Palace Museum illustrated in Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of Sung Dynasty Kuan Ware, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1989, no. 54. However, the current ceramic shape can also be seen as a slightly exaggerated version of the classic ganlan or olive shape, exemplified by a Qianlong famille rose vase in the National Palace Museum illustrated in Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of K'ang-Hsi, Yung-cheng and Ch'ien-lung Porelain Ware From the Ch'ing Dynasty in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1986, no. 117.

The more attenuated form, closer to the current vessel, with more distinctly flaring foot and mouth is also seen among Qing imperial porcelain vases without handles. A Yongzheng example with blue and white decoration in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing, is illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - 36 - Blue and White Porcelain with Underglaze Red (III), Hong Kong, 2000, p. 93, no. 79. A Yongzheng monochrome copper-red glazed vase of the same form in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing, is illustrated in Qingdai Yuyao ciqi, juan 1, Beijing, 2005, pp. 38-9, no. 9. Another of the same shape, but with an imitation Guan glaze, also in the Palace Museum collection is illustrated ibid., pp. 342-3, no. 157. A vase of the same shape, colors, and with the same design as the current vessel, is in the Beijing Palace Museum Collection (Fig.1), illustrated in Selected Porcelain of the Flourishing Qing Dynasty at the Palace Museum, Beijing, 1994, p. 349, no. 85.

Powerful depictions of dragons above waves were popular on imperial porcelain throughout the 18th century. This motif shows the dragon, and thus the emperor, in his most beneficent guise, for it represents the dragon rising from winter hibernation at the spring equinox in order to bring rain and thus ensure a good harvest for all the people of the Empire. A vase with underglaze blue and overglaze rouge red enamel decoration, on which are depicted nine dragons above waves is in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing, and illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - 36 - Blue and White Porcelain with Underglaze Red (III), op. cit., p. 252, no. 230. The Beijing blue and red vase shows a similar approach to the depiction of the waves to that seen on the current green and yellow vase.

The current vase is very similar to a pair of vases sold at Christie's, London, 25 November 1974, lot 212, which were sold again at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 29 November 1976, lot 579. One vase from this pair was subsequently sold at Christie's, Hong Kong, 27 May 2008, lot 1595.

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