with high and cylindrical body, angled shoulders sloping and high upright bamboo-shaped neck with a flare dish lip supported with unglazed tapering foot ring, around the body delicately painted in vibrant and different washed underglaze blue flowering prunus tree issuing bountiful branches and blossoms growing from the base around the rocks and plants to the neck and the other side depicted with bamboo plant accompanied with magpie birds flying and perching on branches with butterfly flying around the tree, all reserved on a deep coral-red ground the glazed base written with vertically underglaze blue six characters of Kangxi reign mark within double circled lines.
RESEARCH & ESSAY.
The form of the present vase shows it long neck, angular shoulders, and slightly tapering cylindrical body resembling a mallet. The present mallet-shaped vase is also called as ‘rouleau vase’ that was commonly made in the Jingdezhen kilns during the Kangxi reign of the Qing dynasty. The decorative theme of the present vase shows plum blossom or prunus tree, which is painted in different shades of underglaze blue evoking the dazzling prunus or deep winter. The particularly large size and auspicious imagery on the present vase would strongly suggest that this vase was a special commission and possibly a wedding gift used for storing new tea in the New Year. Magpies, xique, symbolize another wedding motif, shuangxi, ‘double-happiness’, with the character of the word for magpie, xi, being the same as the character for happiness. Meanwhile, Prunus or called plum blossom came to symbolize perseverance and hope, but also beauty, purity, and the transistorizes of life. In Confucianism, the Prunus stands for the principles and values of virtue. This lovely Rouleau vase is an eye popping blue and white with a sinuous, feminine, shape. The vivid blue glaze against coral red glaze for the present vase has the signature swirls of the designs style, defining the prunus branches, echoes the slender shape of the vase itself.
Red ground vessel firstly appears on a jardinière of Xuande reign that was excavated in 1988 from imperial kiln site in Zushan, illustrated in Imperial Porcelains from the Reign of Xuande in the Ming Dynasty: A Comparison of Porcelains from the Imperial Kiln Site At Jingdezhen and the Imperial Collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing, 2015, no. 95 (see fig. 1). In later reigns, the vessels with various red ground were produced. Coral red glaze like the present vase was created in the Qing dynasty, where this low-fired iron red glazes with a yellow tinge resembling the color of red coral. Professor Wang Qingzheng from Shanghai Museum discusses this kind of coral red glaze in ‘A Dictionary of Chinese Ceramics’, Shanghai Museum, Shanghai, China, 2002, p. 218 that the coral red glazes, firstly appeared during the Kangxi reign, and this glaze was used as a monochrome glaze on dishes, bowls and vases and as a background to various types of decoration.
The birds, probably a magpie, perched on a prunus branch is remarkable for its freely applied washes of blue, which are subtly flecked with intricate detail, as seen in the plumages of the bird and Prunus branches. The composition of the present design immediately recalls designs of Chinese traditional paintings of Song dynasty that was popular at Song court. By Southern Song times, official ‘Birds-and-Flowers” imagery appropriate to court functions seems to give way to a more private type of poetic subject matter, often sketched in small size formats. For example, Emperor Huizong (宋徽宗, 1082–1135) or born Zhao Ji (趙佶) of Song dynasty with his handscroll of ink and color on silk painting “Finches and Bamboo” depicting the kind of the birds like on the current piece, exhibited in “Masterpieces of Chinese Painting from the Metropolitan Collection II,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, May 7, 2016–October 11, 2016 (see fig. 2). The design was then also popular on blue-and-white wares during the early Ming dynasty. In early Ming dynasty, the birds and flowering plants were developed and depicted on porcelains at Jingdezhen. For example, the blue-and-white vessels in wide range of forms depicted with birds on flowering branches dated to early Ming dynasty, Yongle period (1403 – 1424 AD) are from British Museum (see fig. 3)
The greater degree of freedom in arrangement and design of the Prunus and birds like the present vase reflects the style of porcelain that was lavishly produced for the scholars and noblemen during the Kangxi reign. The flowers, birds and butterfly design of Kangxi period like the present vase style, but in different arrangement, is a set of four small graduated cups with flowers, butterfly and birds in underglaze blue on a coral-red ground from The Museum of East Asian Art, illustrated in Inaugural Exhibition, The Museum of East Asian Art, Vol. 1 – Chinese Ceramics, England, 1993, p. 238, cat. 187 (see fig. 4). Another from British Museum, illustrated in Catalogue of Ming and Ming Style Polychrome Wares in the Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, London, Feng, 2006, p. 38, no. 772 (see fig. 5).
Prunus design growing from the below section accompanied with flying birds like the present vase is exceptionally rare blue-and-white design on a coral red ground that is exquisitely decorated on Rouleau ware of Kangxi reign. There is no other example of such Rouleau form with a coral-red ground is published. The coral-ground vessels are frequently depicted with famille verte or famille rose designs. For example, the bowl with flowers growing in lush profusion, from Shanghai Museum, illustrated in Kangxi Porcelain Wares from the Shanghai Museum Collection, Wang Qingzheng, Hong Kong, 1998, p. 95. See also a pair of coral-ground famille-verte bowls, mark of Kangxi and of the period, sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 7th April 2011, lot. 4, for HKD 14,100,000 or equivalent to USD 1,813,824, initially estimated between HKD 8,000,000 – HKD 12,000,000 (see fig. 6).
Imperial Porcelains from the Reign of Xuande in the Ming Dynasty: A Comparison of Porcelains from the Imperial Kiln Site At Jingdezhen and the Imperial Collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing, 2015, no. 95.
A Dictionary of Chinese Ceramics, Wang Qingzheng, Shanghai Museum, Shanghai, China, 2002, p.218.
Masterpieces of Chinese Painting from the Metropolitan Collection II,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, May 7, 2016–October 11, 2016.
Inaugural Exhibition, The Museum of East Asian Art, Vol. 1 – Chinese Ceramics, England, 1993, p. 238, cat. 187.
Catalogue of Ming and Ming Style Polychrome Wares in the Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, London, Feng, 2006, p. 38, no. 772.
Kangxi Porcelain Wares from the Shanghai Museum Collection, Wang Qingzheng, Hong Kong, 1998, p. 95.