Qianlong reign: A Superb Ming-Style Blue-and-White ‘Bajiqiang’ Moonflask

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DESCRIPTION.

modelled after a Middle Eastern prototype, well painted  in underglaze blue illustrating the ‘heaping and piling’ effect of early Ming blue-and-white wares, each domed sides decorated with eight lotus panels enclosing Eight Buddhist Emblems ‘Bajiqiang’ surrounding ‘Vajras’ at the radiating raised central below key fret and lotus panels within line borders, a wide band of lotus scrolls around the edges, the neck flanked by a pair of scroll handles painted with lingzhi scroll and with a keyfret at the rim, repeating similarly to the slightly spreading foot, the base inscribed with square seal mark of Qianlong reign.

RESEARCH & ESSAY.

The entitled ‘moon flask’ shape or ‘bianhu’ of the current vessel derived from ancient Middle Eastern pilgrim metalwork and earthenware prototype, which was frequently adopted by Chinese potters in ceramic works. In early Ming dynasty, the moon flask was emulated in blue-and-white porcelain in both its shape and decoration in blue-and-white ware, which had a convex side and a flat unglazed back with a countersunk medallion in the center. For example, an early 15th century blue and white porcelain flask, where its central raised boss detailed with an Islamic inspired eight-pointed lattice star around the wave and a wide band of turbulence wave around the edges as the same form as the current example, is now in the collection of the Freer Art Gallery, Washington D.C, illustrated in Oriental Ceramics. The World’s Great Collections, Josephine H. Knapp and Esin Atil (Author), John A. Pope (Introduction), vol. 9, Tokyo, 1981, pl. 94 (see fig. 1). The design of eight lotus panels framing Eight Buddhist Emblems surrounding Vajra at the center on the current vessel also closely follow the motif found on the interior of early Ming of Yongle blue-and-white basin from the collection of the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, published and illustrated in Chinese Ceramics: A New Comprehensive Survey from the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, He Li, New York, 1996, pl. 398 (see fig. 2).

In the Qianlong era (1735 – 1796 AD), the shape and design of early Ming vessels were admired by avid palace collectors, where the imperial noblemen brought credit to those previous reigns and then the emperor commissioned the talented artist to emulate those prototypes. To enhance the quality and beauty of blue and white of early Ming prototype at that time, the imperial Qing potters consciously counterfeited an underglazed cobalt blue decoration displaying ‘heaped-and-piled effects with dots hand-painted to rival the natural effects of early Ming blue-and-white wares. The present large Qianlong moon flask was intended to celebrate Ming dynasty prototypes with the contemporaneous style and taste for patrons in eighteenth century. The Buddhist design on the current vase reflected to Qianlong interest. The Qianlong emperor studied the languages and texts of Tibetan Buddhism and he devoted Buddhist as well as followed the Tibetan Buddhist traditions. In addition to commissioning translation projects as did his predecessors, he also commissioned many Buddhist artworks. The emperor used new creation to depict images and symbols of Tibetan ‘Buddhist Emblems’ on the current vessel to bring understanding of abstract concept and divine beings to a greater number of Buddhism believers. The raised square panels depicted with cross ‘Vajras’ surrounded by eight lotus panels framing Eight Auspicious Buddhist Emblems ‘Bajixiang’, each placed symmetrically on the current vessel show that symbol of Vajra is emblematic of the power of the knowledge over ignorance under Eight Buddhist Emblems ‘Bajixiang’ as a symbol of Buddha teachings and enlightenment.

The similar Qianlong moonflask of this pattern and shape is from the Qing Court collection (Diameter 49.5cm high), illustrated in The Prime Cultural Relics Collected by Shenyang Imperial Palace Museum: The Chinaware Volume I, Shenyang, 2007, pl.35 (see fig. 3); another from Idemitsu Collection (Diameter 49.6cm high), illustrated in Chinese Ceramics in the Idemitsu Collection, Tokyo, 1987, pl. 949; another is illustrated in The Tsui Museum of Art: Chinese Ceramics IV Qing Dynasty, Hong Kong, 1995, pl.75; another is illustrated in Sekai toji zenshu, vol. 15, Tokyo, 1983, pl. 151; another from National Palace Museum, is illustrated in the Illustrated Catalogue of Ch’ing Dynasty Porcelain in the National Palace Museum, vol. II, Tokyo, 1981, cat. no. 5; two other examples from Japanese collections, are published in Chinese Ceramics in the Idemitsu Collection, Tokyo, 1987, pls. 949 and 950; other example (diameter 19½ in. high) is illustrated in the National Palace Museum, Taiwan, in Blue and White Ware of the Ch’ing Dynasty, vol. 2, Hong Kong, 1968, pl. 15; another from Asian Art Museum of San Francisco (47.3 cm in height), is published and illustrated in Chinese Ceramics: The New Standard Guide, He Li, Thames and Hudson, London, 1996, p. 292, no. 599 (see fig. 4). The moonflask with Qianlong seal marks and of the period appears to have been sold at auction. Compare to similar form and design sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, May 2006, lot 1239; another (diameter 49 cm high) is from Greenwald Collection, sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, December 2010, lot 2826, for HKD 18,580,000, initially estimated between HKD 3,000,000 – HKD 5,000,000 (see fig. 5); another is a smaller size of similar shape and design (diameter 35 cm high) sold at Christie’s New York, 15th September 2011, lot.  1547; another was sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 28th May 2014, lot. 3433, (50,8 in height), for HKD 6,040,000 or equivalent to US$ 782,437, initially estimated between HKD 1,500,000 – HKD 2,000,000 (see fig. 6). Another is from Sotheby’s Paris, 09 June 2011, lot. 89, estimated between 600,000 EUR — 800,000 EUR and sold for 660,750 EUR. A pair of similar moonflask (49.2cm) is from Sotheby’s Londres, 23th May, 2013 lot. 222 sold for 2,378,500 GBP, initially estimated between 1,000,000 GBP – 2,500,000 GBP. Another (49,6 cm in height) is from Sotheby’s Paris, 16th December 2015, lot. 78, sold for 1,323,000 EUR, initially estimated between 300,000 EUR – 500,000 EUR (see fig. 7).

As the sixth emperor of Manchu-led Qing dynasty, Qianlong Emperor was a Tibetan Buddhism patron, and he obtained his discernment to use the ideas and symbols of Tibetan Buddhism in ruling a vast empire of Qing dynasty. The current Moonflask that is depicted with Eight Buddhist Emblems ‘Baijiqiang’ design reflects the esoteric Buddhism of Tibet, so-called as Tantric or Vajrayana Buddhis. The Emperor was keen about the earlier prototype wares emulated with Tibetan iconography and European-style designs like the present piece, where the emperor frequently commissioned such works to present as gifts of his grandeur to his patrons abroad.

Citation:

  1. Oriental Ceramics. The World’s Great Collections, Josephine H. Knapp and Esin Atil (Author), John A. Pope (Introduction), vol. 9, Tokyo, 1981, pl. 94.

  2. Chinese Ceramics: A New Comprehensive Survey from the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, He Li, New York, 1996, pl. 398.

  3. The Prime Cultural Relics Collected by Shenyang Imperial Palace Museum: The Chinaware Volume I, Shenyang, 2007, pl.35.

  4. Chinese Ceramics in the Idemitsu Collection, Tokyo, 1987, pl. 949.

  5. The Tsui Museum of Art: Chinese Ceramics IV Qing Dynasty, Hong Kong, 1995, pl. 75.

  6. Sekai toji zenshu, vol. 15, Tokyo, 1983, pl. 151.

  7. Illustrated Catalogue of Ch’ing Dynasty Porcelain in the National Palace Museum, vol. II, Tokyo, 1981, cat. no. 5.

  8. Chinese Ceramics in the Idemitsu Collection, Tokyo, 1987, pls. 949 and 950.

  9. Blue and White Ware of the Ch’ing Dynasty, vol. 2, Hong Kong, 1968, pl. 15.

  10. Chinese Ceramics: The New Standard Guide, He Li, Thames and Hudson, London, 1996, p. 292, no. 599.

CATALOGUE ENTRY.

Qianlong