Kangxi Reign: A Langyao Archaistic Vase Form, Hu

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DESCRIPTION.

modelled after archaic ritual wine vessel ‘hu’ form, sturdily pear-shaped body rising from a gently spreading foot to a waisted neck, flanked on either side by a pair of elephant-head ring handles, covered overall outside and inside with an unctuous glaze of vibrant and dark red tone streaked with lavender and turquoise, thinning to beige at the rim and on the lobed edges and handles suffused with “earthworm tracks” falling in heavy droplets on the unglazed trimming edge of footring, the base applied with a translucent greenish-white glaze suffused with crackles written with a six-character Kangxi reign mark in underglaze blue.

RESEARCH & ESSAY.

Kangxi langyao vase of the present elegant vessel is modelled after the ritual wine bronze ‘hu’-formed vessel of Western Zhou dynasty (700 BCE), and the prototype is now in the Indiana Polis Museum of Art, accession number 1994.80 (see fig. 1). The earlier archaic vase forms with ring handles were frequently emulated in eighteenth century during the Qing dynasties, and they were modelled in contemporaneous style and taste in the form of ceramics to celebrate the past antiquities.

The Langyao red glaze or “lang yao hong” or so-called flambé glaze is a type of high-fired glaze developed at the imperial kilns at Jingdezhen, East China, when they were supervised by Lang Tingji (1663 – 1715), the Governor of Jiangxi from 1705 – 1712 AD, during the Kangxi reign of Qing dynasty. They were produced that unreservedly attempted to recreate the lost formula of Song period and perfected the creation of comparable Jun red with lavender streaks glazes. The present vase is coated with thick and deep bright red glaze pooling at the foot looks like fresh-congealed ox-blood (niu xue hong) with crackles giving this Langyao vase in distinctive appearance. Exhibiting the subtle lavender streaks glaze around the body of the present vase was the result of kiln transmutation (yao bian) resuming Jun red of Song period. Wang Qingzheng discusses in A Dictionary of Chinese Ceramics, Shanghai Museum, Shanghai, China, 2002, p. 228, that originally potters referred to any unexpected color appearing in the glaze after firing as kiln transmutations. Examples are the kiln transmutations on the Jun wares of Song dynasty and the transmutations of Langyao red (lang yao hong) in the Kangxi reign (1662-1722) of Qing dynasty. During the Yongzheng and Qianlong reigns, the imperial kilns followed this earlier tradition, and two kinds of coloring agents were used to make Langyao glaze wares. In addition, not normally like the thinner glaze with neatly trimmed foot on other examples of Kangxi flambe wares, the visible thickly glaze falling in heavy droplets on the unglazed trimming edge of this Langyao vase is typical of early Qing imperial craftsmanship being able to reinvent the original glaze of Jun red wares of Song dynasty.

The uniqueness of this vase features its thick glaze with uncontrollable firing that results a great abstract lavender blue design on archaic hu-shaped vase. With uniqueness of its shape and great abstract appeal, the present Kangxi Langyao vase in fine craftsmanship deserves more appreciation that is rarely found and published. Although none of this exact Langyao form of Kangxi mark and period, but this pear-shaped ‘hu’ form was well-known in his successors, Yongzheng and Qianlong reigns with a wide range of ‘hu’ form style in eighteenth century. A closely related hu-shaped vase example with a turtledove handle and a single bow string at the shoulders appears in Yongzheng vase in the in the Palace Museum collection, illustrated in Geng Baochang, ed., Gugong Bowuyuan cang Qingdai yuyao ciqi [Porcelains from the Qing dynasty imperial kilns in the Palace Museum collection], Beijing, 2005, vol. I, part 2, pl. 139 (see fig. 2). Compare with the related hu-shaped vase, Yongzheng period, from the Qing court collection, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Monochrome Porcelain, Hong Kong, 1999, pl. 181. Another with tassels handle, sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 7th October 2015, lot. 3619, for HKD 3,920,000, initially estimated between HKD 1,800,000 – HKD 2,500,000 (see fig. 3). Another with a turtledove handle, sold at Sotheby’s Hongkong, 30th November 2011, lot. 3299, for HKD 7,220,000, initially estimated between HKD 2,500,000 – HKD 3,500,000 (see fig. 4). Another from the Meiyintang collection, is illustrated in Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, Vol. 2, London, 1994, p. 186, no. 834. Compare with two related forms but both with flattened taotie handles have been sold: the first from the Jingguantang collection, sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 3rd November 1996, lot 564; the other sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 30th May 2006, lot 1366. Another with different style and attached with loop handles was sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 4th April 2012, lot. 3107, for HKD 1,700,000, initially estimated HKD 800,000 – HKD 1,200,000 (see fig. 5).

The shape of this classical vase form, referred to as fang hu vessel, is distinctly based on ritual bronze prototypes that was part of Kangxi emperor’s attention and interest in sacrifices and rituals for the imperial ancestors. In the fourth year after the Kangxi Emperor personally took charge, he began to be able to spare some attention to the necessary court utensils. In this year, sacrifices and rituals to the imperial ancestors and forebears were carried out, as well as those at the tomb shrine of his predecessor, the Shun-chih Emperor. In 1670, in the second, intercalary, month, the Kangxi Emperor instructed the Ministry of Rites to prepare the vessels and utensils necessary for the performance of the required rites and ceremonies, and thus was issued the order for the Jingdezhen kilns. In 1732, during the Yongzheng reign period, the General Gazetteer of Kangxi was published, and it states:

“All the expenses to make the ritual vessels were to be deducted from the taxes due (from that region), and no extra levies were authorized. The porcelain products were to be delivered to the capital at regulated times.” See: Catalog of The Special Exhibition of Kang-Hsi, Yung-Cheng and Chi’in-Lung Porcelain Ware from The Ch’ing Dynasty in The National Palace Museum, National Palace Museum, October, 1986, p. 20.

 It is extremely unusual to find Langyao hu-shaped vase with lavender streaks of Kangxi mark and period like the present piece. With spectacular ‘hu’ vase form and its captivating thick and splendid glaze of complex deep red colour with lavender streaks, the present vase is a fine craftsmanship to capture the beauty of celebrated classic Jun red glaze of Song or Yuan dynasty (960–1368 AD).

Citation:

  1. A Dictionary of Chinese Ceramics, Shanghai Museum, Shanghai, China, 2002, p. 228.

  2. Gugong Bowuyuan cang Qingdai yuyao ciqi [Porcelains from the Qing dynasty imperial kilns in the Palace Museum collection], Geng Baochang, ed., Beijing, 2005, vol. I, part 2, pl. 139.

  3. The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Monochrome Porcelain, Hong Kong, 1999, pl. 181.

  4. Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, Vol. 2, London, 1994, p. 186, no. 834.

  5. Catalog of The Special Exhibition of Kang-Hsi, Yung-Cheng and Chi’in-Lung Porcelain Ware from The Ch’ing Dynasty in The National Palace Museum, National Palace Museum, October, 1986, p. 20.

CATALOGUE ENTRY.

Kangxi Reign