The vase of compressed pear-shape, elaborately decorated with four large blossoming lotus evenly spaced around the lower body below the waisted neck decorated with iron-red bats suspending a beribboned string of wan emblem, ruyi and lotus, all against a dense background of further floral decoration and interlaced leafy fronds reserved on a rich lemon-yellow ground, the neck surmounted by an out-curved mouth rim with shaped edge decorated with ruyi head, corresponding to the ruyi decoration on the body, all raised on a slender tapering foot decorated with overlapping petals
11 1/2 in. (28 cm.) high
By repute, acquired from Henry Brougham Loch
1st Baron Loch (Lord Loch of Drylaw, 1827-1900)
Alfred Morrison Collection
Fonthill Heirlooms, no. 336
John Granville Morrison (1901-1996), 1st Baron Margadale of Islay and thence by direct descent to the present owner

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Lot Essay

The elegant shape of this vase with its pear-shaped body and long, slender, neck ends in an ornamental mouth of turned-down ruyi heads. The form is complemented by a delicately painted design in famille rose enamels on a rich yellow ground. Alfred Morrison's Fonthill Collection, from which this exquisite vase comes, is known for its extremely fine enamelled porcelains, especially those with coloured grounds. Interestingly, yellow-ground vessels appear to have found particular favour both at the Chinese court of the late 18th and early 19th century, and in the Fonthill Collection. There have been three previous sales of porcelains from this famous Collection at Christie's London and it is notably that of the porcelains in the first sale, on 31st May 1965, seven of the enamelled porcelains had yellow grounds; in the sale on 18th October 1971 eleven had yellow grounds; and in the sale on 9th November 2004 were a further four yellow ground porcelains, along with six yellow ground enamels on metal. Two further yellow ground porcelain bowls from the Fonthill Collection are included in the current sale.

The form of the mouth of this vase is particularly attractive and skilfully executed - complementing the overall shape and decoration of the vase and providing additional symbolism. Turned-down ruyi mouths of this type are rare on porcelain vessels, as they would have been difficult to make and fire successfully. The rare turned-down mouths seen on Ming and Qing dynasty porcelains may ultimately derive from the vases with lobed turned-down mouths made in the 12th and 13th centuries. These latter vases were made at the Jun kilns and the Cizhou kilns, as well as being found amongst qingbai porcelains from the Jingdezhen kilns (see R. Kerr, Song Ceramics, London, 2004, p. 32, no. 22; T. Mikami, Sekai Toji Zenshu 13 Liao Jin Yuan, Tokyo, 1981, pp. 110-11, no. 92; and S. Pierson (ed.), Qingbai Ware: Chinese Porcelain of the Song and Yuan Dynasties, London, 2002, pp. 136-7, no. 71). The first appearance of turned-down mouths on Ming dynasty porcelains from the Jingdezhen kilns appears to be in the Xuande reign, on vases such as the blue and white vessel illustrated in Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of Hsuan-te Imperial Porcelains of the Ming Dynasty, Taipei, 1998, pp. 80-1, no. 13.

However the distinctive ruyi or lappet-shape of the down-turned mouth on vessels such as the current vase appears to be a Qianlong innovation. A small number of published Qianlong vases have mouths which turn down in a series of pendant ruyi. Two blue and white vases with similar turned-down ruyi mouths decorated with lingzhi fungus have been published; one from the collection of the National Palace Museum in Porcelain of the National Palace Museum: Blue-and-White Ware of the Ch'ing Dynasty II, Hong Kong, 1968, pp. 40-1, pl. 10 (see fig. 1); the other was sold at Christie's London on 11 July, 2006, lot 142, while a further pair of blue and white Qianlong vases featuring turned-down mouths with ruyi heads were sold at Christie's London on 11 May, 2010, lot 217. However, such turned-down ruyi mouths are also occasionally seen on famille rose pieces, such as a vase in the Palace Museum, Beijing (see fig. 2). The Beijing vase is illustrated in Views of Antiquity in the Qing Imperial Palace: special exhibition to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the establishment of the Palace Museum, Museu de Arte de Macau, 2006, p. 25, no. 52. Another famille rose vase in the Palace Museum is illustrated in Porcelains with cloisonne enamel decoration and famille rose decoration, The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, vol. 39, Hong Kong, 1999, p. 137, no. 120 (see fig. 3). This type of mouth also appears on a gu-shaped, celadon-glazed, vase from the same collection, illustrated in Kangxi Yongzheng Qianlong, Qing Porcelain from the Palace Museum Collection, Hong Kong, 1989, p. 461, no. 143. Judging from the quality of the body material, the elegant construction of the shape, and painting style, the current vase was most probably made during the early years of the Jiaqing reign, and by the same craftsmen who produced similar vases in the Qianlong period.

In addition to the graceful floral scrolls on this vase, the decoration includes a number of auspicious emblems. Four upside-down bats are painted on the neck of the vessel, symbolising the arrival of happiness. This happiness is multiplied by the wan characters, meaning ten thousand, which hang from the ribbons, which the bats hold in their mouths. These same ribbons are slotted through ruyi, from which in turn lotus blossoms are suspended. The ruyi symbolises 'everything as you wish', while the lotus is a Buddhist symbol of purity and beauty. The lappets which form the turned-down mouth rim are in the form of ruyi, which in turn are shaped like a lingzhi fungus.

The lingzhi fungus is one of the most auspicious motifs in the Chinese decorator's repertoire. The name literally means 'divine branch' or 'efficacious branch', and is usually identified with the fruiting body of species of fungi belonging to the Polyporacae family, which are rare in north China, but more common in the south. The lingzhi fungi grow on the roots or trunks of trees, and instead of decaying, like most other fungi, they become woody and appear to survive indefinitely. It is this latter quality, and the fact that they are believed to grow near springs in the vicinity of the abodes of the immortals, that has contributed to their reputation as conveyors of long life. Because the shape of the fungi often resembles the head of ruyi sceptres, it is associated with the ruyi and its meaning of 'everything as you wish it'. Another belief in relation to these lingzhi fungi was that they would appear when a virtuous ruler was on the throne and the empire was peaceful and prosperous. Their inclusion in the decoration of an imperial vessel was, therefore, a compliment to the reigning emperor.

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