Globular vases, or tianqiuping, of this massive size and superb quality are extremely rare. From the painting style, with its deliberate echo of the Ming 'heaping and piling' effect, and its globular form, it is clear that the present vase was produced as an appreciation of early Ming dynasty prototypes. The present vase may be compared to three Ming examples which are decorated with a single, backward-looking, three-clawed dragon: one bearing a six-character Xuande mark, illustrated in Sekai toji zenshu, Tokyo, 1976, vol. 14, p. 29, no. 19; an unmarked example dated to the Xuande period, from the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - 34 - Blue and White with Underglaze Red (I), Hong Kong, 2000, p. 90, no. 87; and an unmarked example dated to the Xuande period from the National Palace Museum, Taipei, illustrated in Blue and White Ware of the Ming Dynasty, Book II (part I), Hong Kong, 1963, p. 26, no. 3.
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 fifteenth century, for example, on the large flask in the Percival David Collection, currently on loan to the British Museum, and illustrated by R. Scott in Elegant Form and Harmonious Decoration - Four Dynasties of Jingdezhen Porcelain, London, 1992, p. 37, no. 24. Dragons among lotus scrolls reappear 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 the symbols of purity (the lotus flowers) must have appealed to the Qianlong Emperor, since a number of fine imperial porcelains from his reign, such as the current vase, are decorated with this theme.
A very similar Qianlong blue and white tianqiuping of this design, but of slightly smaller size (59.7 cm.), was sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 1 November 1999, lot 382, and was included in Sotheby’s Thirty Years in Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 2003, p. 247, no. 269. This vase was subsequently sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 27 November 2007, lot 1688, and was included in Christie’s Twenty Years in Hong Kong, 1986-2006, Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, Hong Kong, 2006, p.135. A closely related vase of this shape and of comparable size, but decorated with three-clawed dragons above turbulent waves, from the Naval and Military Club Collection and the Jingguantang Collections, and illustrated in The Tsui Museum of Art - Chinese Ceramics IV - Qing Dynasty, Hong Kong, 1995, no. 72, was sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 3 November 1996, lot 553. See, also, smaller tianqiuping from the Yongzheng and Qianlong periods where the dragons are depicted weaving through misty clouds, such as the Yongzheng-marked tianqiuping illustrated by J. Spencer in Chang Foundation Inaugural Catalogue, Taiwan, 1990, p. 54; and the Qianlong-marked example of the same design sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 29 October 2000, lot 4.