The form of this rare blue and white vase is one which would have been difficult for the potter to make. It is most likely that the form first entered China from the West and that the prototype was either glass or metal. While the form is rare it is nevertheless, one which seems first to appear in Chinese porcelain in the early 15th century and to have been copied under the Qing dynasty. The fascination that this form had for the Qing emperors is demonstrated by the fact that one of Giuseppe Castiglione's still-life paintings, of flowers in a vase, depicts a blue and white faceted vase of this form.
While the Qing design has been somewhat adapted, interestingly, the form always appears to be decorated with morning glory. For a comparison between the Ming version and the slightly larger Qing copy with similar design to the present lot, see the two pieces from the National Palace Museum, Taibei, included in the Special Exhibition of Hsuan-te Wares, 1980, Catalogue, nos. 5 and 7. The original Ming design consists only of scrolling morning glory blooms (a symbol for marital bliss) covering the entire vase, while in the Qing version, the ceramicist has confined this design to the central zone of the vase, between additional formal design elements on the neck and foot, resulting in a particularly successful combination of decoration. The disposition of these elements in effect, conveys a sense of the vase's Near Eastern origins. Overall, both the potting and the underglaze painted design are more precise and carefully balanced than their earlier counterparts. The present vase is also an example of archaism in which the original is not slavishly copied, but for which the designs have been adapted to enhance the vessel's form.
Other Ming prototypes are known, such as the Percival David Foundation example, illustrated in $IOriental Ceramics, The World's Great Collections, vol. 6, no. 105. The unusual shape is also applied with monochrome glaze as can be seen on the 15th-century white-glazed vase in the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., illustrated in Oriental Ceramics, The World's Great Collections, vol. 9, no. 98. The Freer Collection vase is inscribed with the characters, Si nian shi yang, 'fourth year test shape'.
Similar vases with Yongzheng marks and the same decoration but on a yellow enamel ground are published, one in the Baur Collection, illustrated in the Catalogue, vol. IV, no. A577, and another sold in the Imperial Sale in our Hong Kong Rooms, 27 April 1997, lot 67. Cf. also a vase of the same shape but with a ge-type glaze, included in the National Palace Museum, Taibei, Special Exhibition of Ch'ing Dynasty Monochrome Porcelain, 1981, Catalogue, no. 83.