The pair to this vase, now in the Au Bak Ling Collection, and previously in the W. W. Winkworth Collection, sold at Sotheby's London, 12 December 1972, lot 99, and again at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 31 October 1974, lot 198. No other vases of this rare shape and pattern appear to have been published.
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 the 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 Hobson, The Wares of the Ming Dynasty, front cover. A comparable example dated Xuande with a double-waisted knopped neck, broadly tapering body and splayed foot, painted around the body with flower-sprays and petal bands, is illustrated in Zhongguo Taoci Quanji, The Great Treasury of Chinese Ceramics, vol. 19, Jingdezhen Minjian Qinghua Ciqi, Jingdezhen Folk Blue and White Porcelain, 1983, fig. 12.
The form seems to have been revived during the Yongzheng period, probably as part of the archaising movement, which drew on ceramics and bronzes readily available in Beijing as design models for potters responding to the taste for the antique 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 a flambe-glazed vase of this form, in this sale, lot 512; and another vase in the Beijing Palace Museum, illustrated in Kangxi, Yongzheng, Qianlong, p. 257, pl. 86.
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, providing an attractive contrast and placing the dragons in prominence on an otherwise busy ground. The subject matter is of interest as well, the dominant five-clawed dragon representing the Emperor instructing the Crown Prince, the three-clawed dragon, preparing his rise upwards from the waves. Wares decorated with this subject are extremely rare and are found only a small group of vases, most probably made to commemorate an auspicious event during the reign of Emperor Yongzheng.