Although the pear-shaped vase form has been enduringly popular in Chinese ceramics, elegant porcelain versions of the large size represented by the current vessel are rare. It is possible, however, that large versions of this particular shape, with swelling pear-shaped body and elongated slender neck, appealed to the Qianlong Emperor, since several additional vases of this type, each decorated differently, from his reign are known. A large Qianlong blue and white vase of this form from the Qing court collection 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. 133, no. 119. Although the Beijing vase is decorated with figures in a landscape, rather than dragons amongst floral scrolls, it shares with the current vase the feature of having the whole surface of the vessel's body devoted to a single theme without encroaching on minor bands. A second example, also preserved in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated ibid., p. 229, no. 209, is decorated in underglaze blue and underglaze copper red. This vessel is interesting because its major decorative band depicts dragons among floral scrolls - the same theme as on the current vessel. The blue and red vase, however, has the dragons in red and the floral scrolls in blue, while the floral scrolls depict a mixture of flowers, as opposed to the current vase which depicts only lotus. A further large Qianlong vase of this form covered with a flambé glaze in the collection of the Nanjing Museum is illustrated in Zhongguo Qingdai guanyao ciqi, Shanghai, 2003, p. 345, while another similar vase with flambé glaze over which gold decoration has been applied is in the Palace Museum, Beijing. See Kangxi Yongzheng Qianlong, Qing Porcelain from the Palace Museum Collection, Hong Kong, 1989, p. 393, no. 74.
While dragons are more usually depicted against a background of waves or clouds, the Qianlong reign saw a revival of dragons depicted amongst lotus scrolls, as on the current vase. Dragons had been painted with lotus scrolls in the early 15th century, for example on the large flask in the Percival David Foundation illustrated by R. Scott, Elegant Form and Harmonious Decoration - Four Dynasties of Jingdezhen Porcelain, Percival David Foundation, London, 1992, p. 37, no. 24. Dragons among lotus scrolls re-appear briefly on imperial porcelain in the Zhengde reign, see ibid., p. 71, no. 69, but the combination is rare in other periods. Linking the imperial five-clawed dragon with symbols of purity (the lotus flowers) must have appealed to the Qianlong emperor, however, since a number of fine imperial porcelains from his reign, such as the current vase, are decorated with this theme.
Dragons and scrolling lotus provide the main decoration on a blue and white tianqiuping from the T.T. Tsui collection illustrated in The Tsui Museum of Art - Chinese Ceramics IV Qing, Hong Kong, 1995, no. 72. This design is more usually seen on large hu vessels, such as that sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 19 March 1991, lot 569. Similarly decorated large hu vessels were also sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 30 October 2001, lot 814; at Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 16 May 1989, lot 271; and Sotheby's, London, 9 November 2005, lot 327. The current vase, however, appears to be the only known example of this decorative theme applied to a large pear-shaped vase, on which it is particularly efffective.