Qianlong reign: An Overglaze Iron-Red and Underglaze Blue ‘Dragon’ Archaic Vase, hu.

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DESCRIPTION.

This vase is sturdily potted in pear-shaped body in the form of an archaic bronze fanghu vessel rising from a gently straight foot to a waisted neck, around the body decorated in iron red with two medallions enclosing a leaping ferocious full-faced and scaly five-clawed dragon beast rendered with piercing eyes framed by thick furrowed brows, long flowing mane and flaring horns in chasing a flaming pearl against an underglaze blue linzhi cloud swirls background above turbulent crashing waves, overall between a key-fret border around the foot and lip with pendant ruyi head pattern around the neck, underglaze blue six seal characters “Da Qing Qian Long Nian Zhi””大清乾隆年制“ (made during the reign of Emperor Qianlong, Qing Dynasty) visible on the flat base.

RESEARCH & ESSAY.

Qianlong emperor (1711-1799), the sixth emperor of the Qing Dynasty, was as a keen collector and scholar of porcelain art and much interested in different shapes, glazes and designs. Inheriting his father’s interest, Yongzheng emperor reigning in 1723-1735, he was also highly delighted in objects that were modelled after relics from antiquity. The current vessel derived from archaic bronze fanghu vessel shape prototype of earlier dynasty, Shang dynasty (1600-1046 BCE). Meanwhile, the frontal dragon design on the body of current vessel was fashioned from Ming prototypes. A Ming Jiajing-marked blue and white dish with a similar design of dragons is in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in Blue and White Porcelain with Underglazed Red (II), The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Hong Kong, 2000, p. 125, pl. 115. Another, Ming of Wanli mark and period, is illustrated and published in A Handbook of Chinese Ceramics, S. Valenstein, New York, 1989 ed., p. 188, no. 184, then it was sold at Christie’s New York, 15th September 2015, lot. 837 (see fig. 1).

The frontal-faced five-clawed imperial dragon design the current vase had of course a long tradition in China, where it was an emblem of the emperor’s majestic role and benevolent rule. In the Qing palace, dragons could be seen everywhere and the image of the frontal-faced five-clawed imperial dragon in particular can be considered as the ultimate reflection of the Qianlong’s imperial splendour. Delicately decorated in iron-red enamels with a five-clawed dragon chasing a flaming pearl among underglaze blue clouds and waves, the dragons are painted with such precision and detail that appears strong and vivacious. Although no exactly the same design in overglaze iron-red and underglaze blue counterpart has yet been found, certainly the design and pattern appear on several vessels during the Qianlong reign. A related to the current overglaze iron-red and underglaze blue design of moonflask is illustrated in ‘The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Blue and White Porcelain with Underglazed Red (III), Shanghai, 2000, pl. 232 (see fig. 2). A similar dragon is depicted in iron-red against blue clouds on the cover of a large round box of the Qianlong period, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, op.cit., pl. 224. Another is a pair of vases on display in Chonghuagong (‘Palace of Double Brilliance’), Forbidden City; see Ming Qing shinei chenshe [Interior decoration of the Ming and Qing dynasties], Beijing, 2008, fig. 103. Compare with an overglaze iron-red and underglaze-blue ‘Dragon’ moonflask, seal mark and period of Qianlong, sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 7th October 2015, lot. 3633, for HKD 29,880,000 or equivalent to EUR 3,434,884, initially estimated between HKD 18,000,000 – HKD 25,000,000 (see fig. 3). This magnificent hu-shaped vase appears to be unique, and no other related hu-shaped vases of exactly the same design in overglaze iron-red and underglaze blue appears to have been published.

Citation:

  1. Blue and White Porcelain with Underglazed Red (II), The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Hong Kong, 2000, p. 125, pl. 115.

  2. A Handbook of Chinese Ceramics, S. Valenstein, New York, 1989 ed., p. 188, no. 184.

  3. The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Blue and White Porcelain with Underglazed Red (III)’, Shanghai, 2000, pl. 232.

  4. The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, op.cit., pl. 224.

  5. Ming Qing shinei chenshe [Interior decoration of the Ming and Qing dynasties], Beijing, 2008, fig. 103.

CATALOGUE ENTRY.

Qianlong Reign