2 More
5 More


The lantern-form outer body is carved with four openwork interlocked ruyi-shaped panels each enclosing a wan emblem, against a lime-green enamelled lattice-work ground, the body rising from a spreading foot with a floral scroll on a pink-ground with dense puce-enamelled feathery scrolls between a keyfret band below and above. The detachable waisted neck is similarly decorated below a ruyi-border below the gilt rim, flanked by a pair of dragon-form handles. The inner cylindrical vase is finely painted with four dragon boats, filled with boys rowing, with spectators watching along the banks, standing on the bridge, or sitting inside a pavilion. The inner neck and the base are enamelled turquoise.
15 3/4 in. (40 cm.) high
Acquired from a private European family collection, by repute

Brought to you by

Marco Almeida (安偉達)
Marco Almeida (安偉達) SVP, Senior International Specialist, Head of Department & Head of Private Sales

Check the condition report or get in touch for additional information about this

Sign in
View Condition Report

Lot Essay


Zhuanxinping (center-turning vases) were the most iconic genre amongst the new creations of Qianlong imperial kilns. In the records of Zaobanchu, they are often referred to as zhuanxuanping (revolving vases), such as ‘a pair of yangcai café-au-lait ground ‘bats and ruyi’ revolving vases’, ‘a pair of yangcai double gourd revolving vases’ etc. Not many revolving vases survive, and their first appearance is generally accepted to be around 1743, under the instigation of supervisor Tang Ying. They were produced at the imperial kilns at Jingdezhen for over 30 years in accordance to the taste and preferences of the Qianlong emperor.

On perusing The Records of Zaobanchu, indeed in 1743, many ceramics with revolving components started to appear, including bowls, brushpots, hat stands, spittoons and double gourd vases. There are many such examples in the Taipei and Beijing Palace Museums, several of which have corresponding entries in the Records. For example, there is an entry for ‘a pair of yangcai revolving reticulated hat stands’, which appears to correspond to the yangcai revolving hat stand (fig. 1) in the Taipei Palace Museum. After 1745, vases with revolving components and yangcai decoration frequently appeared in the Records, illustrating that the sizes of these vases became larger as the manufacturing techniques advanced.

The revolving vases that are found in world museums, although quite small in number, all vary in their forms and decorations. The current vase is approximately 40 cm. high and of a popular form in the Qianlong period, with long neck, broad shoulders, rounded pierced body and splayed foot. The interior and the base are glazed in turquoise, with the six-character mark written in underglaze-blue seal script, in a calligraphic style commonly found on yangcai porcelains in the Qianlong period. The neck is applied with two brown-glazed archaistic kui dragon handles with gilt decoration, a motif often found on Qianlong period porcelains. Similar archaistic dragon handles are seen on revolving vases, such as those on the vase with reticulated kui dragon designs (fig. 2) in the collection of National Museum of China. In the Beijing Palace Museum, there are also revolving vases with archaistic phoenix handles (fig. 3) and elephant-head handles (see Porcelains with Cloisonne Enamel Decoration and Famille Rose Decoration, Hong Kong, 1999, pl. 155 and 156). The eye-catching highlight of the ingenious double-layered revolving vase is the intricate painting or decoration on the inner vase, which can be seen moving through the reticulated design of the outer vase while it turns. The mechanism and manufacture of these vases are complex and laborious. The assumption that the manufacturing of these vessels began in 1743 as mentioned earlier is based on a memorial submitted by Tang Yin in that year, which stated that ‘your servant has designed nine types of new vases involving ‘enclosed layers’, ‘reticulated decoration’ and ‘interlocking components’.’ From this statement, we know that these revolving vases make use of several techniques, including ‘enclosed layers’, where the inner vase is enclosed by an outer layer; ‘reticulated decoration’, where decoration is carved so one can see through to the inner layer; and ‘interlocking components’, where the upper and lower parts appear interlocked but are actually made separately, an example of which is the yangcai yellow ground sgraffitointerlocked revolving vase (fig. 4) in the Taipei Palace Museum.

The current vase makes use of the ‘enclosed layer’ and ‘reticulated design’ techniques; the outer layer of the lower body is pierced with a lime green-enamelled lattice ground surrounding four brown-glazed panels with auspicious 卍 symbols in the center. There is a revolving vase (fig. 5) in the Tokyo National Museum which is not only similar in form to the current vase, the pierced lattice decoration around the body and the brown-glazed panels are also comparable – albeit the panels are pierced with cash motif. The interior of the Tokyo vase is painted in underglaze blue with bats amidst clouds. The presence of cash (qian ; also ‘in front’) and bats (fu ; also ‘fortune’) make up the rebus fu zai yan qian – fortune right in front.

The inner layer of the current vase is decorated in polychrome enamels with a dragon boat race, where the viewers are gathered on the riverbank or in buildings. As the vase rotates, the dragon boats appear to advance, re-enacting a heated race. The paddlers are painted in a variety of active poses, adding a touch of animation for the viewer. The Qianlong emperor paid great attention to festivities and ceremonies, and many objects of the period are decorated with the theme of Duanwu festival. The falangcai gallbladder vase painted with dragon boats (fig. 6) in the Taipei Palace Museum is one such example. Revolving vases are often used as decorations during important festivals or given as gifts, and it is very probable that the current vase, with its auspicious 卍 symbols and dragon boat decorations, was made as a tribute for the Duanwu festival.

In the Records of Zaobanchu, it is recorded that on the 12th day of the 5th month in 1753, the Qianlong emperor commissioned the imperial kilns in Jiangxi to make a ‘revolving vase decorated with dragon boats and summersault performers’. We have not yet located a vase that corresponds to this description, there are no summersault performers on the current vase, but we could imagine what it might look like. The vase described in the Records appears to be a revolving vase with a much more complex mechanism, while the current vase is more akin to the yangcai reticulated vase (fig. 7) in the Taipei Palace Museum, composing of the neck section of the outer vase, the body of the outer vase, the inner vase and the base (fig. 8). The neck of the outer vase is connected to the inner vase with a mortise and tenon joint. Turning the neck will cause the vase to turn accordingly, where the moving decoration can be seen through the reticulated design of the outer body. This is the most common mode of construction for revolving vases. (For a detailed discussion on the construction of the vase, see Yu Peichin, ‘Tangying jianzao zhuanxinping jiqi xiangguan wenti’, opt cit.; and Zhu Jiajin, Guobao, p. 182)

There are several revolving vases over 60 cm. in height in the Nanjing Museum and Beijing Palace Museum that have more complex constructions, providing a more animated viewing experience for the viewer. One of these, a blue-ground revolving vase with cut-out panels (fig. 9), is constructed with semi-automated mechanisms and is powered by running water and gears, a completely different construction method to the aforementioned vases. (see Huo Hua, ‘Qing guanyao jiqingyou fencai Qianlong xingweitu zhuanxuanping yanjiu’, Dongnan wenhua, 1997.02, pp. 132-140).

The decorative motifs on the current vase, including the passionfruit scrolls, classic scrolls, the keyfret band around the body and the ruyi heads below the mouth rim are all very typical of the Qianlong period. The pink ground of the neck and the foot, and the yellow ground of the shoulder and lower body are all decorated with sgraffitodesign before the addition of passionfruit scrolls, florets or leaves – a classic example of Qianlong period jinshang tianhua (literally ‘adding flowers to brocade’) decoration. The sgraffitoground can either be done by incised design or painted. The ‘feather’ scroll seen on the current sgraffitodesign can be found on many examples in the Taipei Palace Musuem, such as the pink-ground sgraffitovase (inventory number: 故瓷008214N000000000), and the yellow ground gold painted sgraffitorevolving double gourd vase (see Stunning Decorative Porcelains from Ch’ien-Lung Reign, p.50). The sgraffitoground of the current vase and that of the yellow-ground double gourd vase are both painted.

Other coloured-ground sgraffitorevolving vases are recorded, such as the aforementioned archaic phoenix-eared vase (fig. 3), the Tokyo National Museum vase with puce-ground sgraffito(fig. 5) and the revolving vase with anbaxian design in the Beijing Palace Museum (fig. 10). The latter two examples are very similar in form and decorative scheme to the current example, all with varying decorative bands from the mouth to the foot, and also compare very closely to the vase offered at Christie’s Hong Kong in 2011 (fig. 11). The passionfruit scroll on the current vase, however, shows the use of chiaroscuro technique on the leaves and petals much more clearly compared to the other three vases, and is closer in style to the yangcai sgraffito ewer (see Stunning Decorative Porcelains from Ch’ien-Lung Reign, p.50) in the Taipei Palace Museum.

Revolving vases were complex and expensive commissions, there are very few surviving examples. The current vase epitomises the finesse of enamelling and the intricacy of porcelain reticulation in the Qianlong period. The precision of its construction and the richness of its decorative schemes make it an outstanding work of art, not to mention the pictorial depiction on the inner vase, which is rarely seen on recorded examples. This is Qing craftsmanship at its best, not only a tour-de-force of the Qing artisans, but also a reflection of Qianlong emperor’s own taste and self-expression.