This large and extremely handsome flask is a rare example of the finely painted doucai decorative technique applied to a vessel of considerable size. Its decorative scheme is also a perfect representation of imperial might and beneficence. The powerful five-clawed dragon, symbolizing the emperor, dominates the design, surrounded by auspicious symbols such as the multicolored clouds - bringing luck, and the upside-down bats - indicating happiness has arrived. The dragon rises from the waves to bring rain for the crops and ensure a bumper harvest. A Qianlong doucai moonflask of the same size, shape, mark, and very similar decoration is in the Palace Museum, Beijing. See The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - 38 - Porcelains in Polychrome and Contrasting Colours, Hong Kong, 1999, p. 278, no. 254. The Beijing flask shares with the current example similar decorative treatment of foot, neck and handles, while the body of the flask is decorated on each side with a writhing five-clawed red dragon amongst multicolored clouds and bats above a raging sea. The main difference is that the Beijing flask also includes a small green five-clawed dragon emerging from the waves, and where there is a whirlpool depicted in the sea directly beneath the dragon on the current flask, the Beijing vessel has rocks. The main dragons on the two flasks are essentially the same, except that the Beijing dragon is more vertically compressed to allow for the extra green dragon.
Also in the Palace Museum, Beijing, is a smaller Qianlong doucai moonflask with decoration related to the current example illustrated op.cit., p. 263, no. 241. This smaller flask also has dragons amongst multicolored clouds above waves, but in this case there are two five-clawed dragons - one red and one green - chasing a flaming pearl. This smaller flask has simplified handles, and although it shares an underglaze blue six-character seal mark with the two larger vessels, neither the base nor the interior bear turquoise enamel. Another Qianlong doucai moonflask of similar form, only slightly smaller than the current flask, and sharing its elaborate dragon handles, in the collection of the Tianjin Municipal Museum is illustrated in Porcelains from the Tianjin Municipal Museum, Hong Kong, 1993, no. 176. The Tianjin flask shares with the current example the band of multicolored ruyi lappets under the rim and upside-down bats on the neck. However, the Tianjin flask has a scene from the Gengzhi tu inside a circular panel on each side, unlike the current example where the full decorative canvas has been used to give maximum space to the writhing dragon.
The theme of majestic five-clawed dragons amongst clouds above waves was obviously one favored by the Qianlong emperor for the decoration of moonflasks. It occurs not only on doucai vessels such as the current flask, but also on those decorated in underglaze blue. An underglaze blue flask of similar size to the current example and sharing the archaistic dragon handles as well as similar decorative theme in the Matsuoka Art Museum, Tokyo, is illustrated by J. Ayers and M. Sato (eds.), Sekai toji zenshu - 15 - Qing, Tokyo, 1983, p. 150, no. 152. The only significant difference in the design of the Matsuoka flask and the current example is that a second smaller dragon is included among the waves beneath the large dragon. A smaller flask with only vestigial foot, but with the same archaistic dragon handles, in the Palace Museum, Beijing, is decorated with the same scheme as the current flask, but in underglaze blue against a background of yellow enamel. See The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - 36 - Blue and White Porcelain with Underglaze Red (II), Hong Kong, 2000, p. 258, no. 235). Another slightly larger flask with the same type of foot as on the doucai vessels, and decorated with the dragon and bats in overglaze rouge red and the rest of the design in underglaze blue, is also in the Palace Museum illustrated ibid., p. 254, no. 232.
A pair of large doucai flasks decorated with the same motifs as the current example was included in the exhibition 100 Masterpieces of Imperial Chinese Ceramics from the Au Bak Ling Collection, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1998, and illustrated in The Asian Art Newspaper, November 1998, p. 12.