Archaism and Innovation - A Qianlong Yellow and Green 'Dragon' Vase
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. These Xuande dishes are not only important for their colouration but also for the fact that the colours are separated by fine relief lines in the fahua style. On the current vase, however, the colours are separated by incised lines, which also provide the details on some of the motifs. The combination of green and yellow, both glaze/enamel colours 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 of the Zhou period, which are cast with a pair of pierced slots above the splayed foot, such as the example illustrated by line drawing in Xiqing Gujian, juan 20, (fig. 1), and an example dated to the mid-Western Zhou period, excavated in 1975 from Baijiacun in Shaanxi province and illustrated in Zhongguo Wenwu Jinghua Dacidian - Qingtong juan, Shanghai, 1995, p. 134, no. 464 (fig. 2). A somewhat broader, lobed, ceramic version of the shape also appears amongst Song dynasty Guan wares, such as the vase 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 included in 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, and illustrated in the Catalogue, 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 Blue and White Porcleain with Underglaze Red (III), The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Vol. 36, 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, colours, and with the same design as the current vessel, in the Qing Court Collection is illustrated in Miscellaneous Enamelled Porcelains - Plain Tricoloured Porcelain, Hong Kong, 2009, p. 131, no. 105 (fig. 3). Another similar vase is placed within a treasure cabinet in situ in the Shufangzhai, the Hall of Fragrance (fig. 4).
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 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; one of which was later sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 27 May 2008, lot 1595. Another example from a New England Collection was sold at Christie's New York, 17 September 2008, lot 480.
PROPERTY FROM A GERMANY FAMILY COLLECTION