Qianlong Reign: A Rare Celadon ‘Nine Dragons’ Incense Burner

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DESCRIPTION

This incense burner is a large shallow dish raised on three spreading feet, and centered by a protuberant candle holder wrapped by nine nosediving dragons propping a deep lotus-shaped bowl with one dragon’s head at the inner of cup, the rear of dish decorated with lotus panels below thunder pattern borders, the base carved with Qianlong seal mark, covered overall with a green celadon glaze.

RESEARCH & ESSAY

The present elegantly incense burner is modeled after Oil Lamp in ancient periods. The present piece form is unique that is inspired by a bronze Oil Lamp prototype, and the prototype was made with ceramic materials during the Three Kingdoms period (189 – 280 AD). See a Bear Oil Lamp from Chinese History Museum, unearthed from the Tomb of Wu in Qingliangshan Mountain, Nanjing City in 1958. The outsole of this lamp of the Three Kingdoms period is engraved with the seven characters “made in May in the first year of Ganlu”. “Gan Lu” is the reign of Sun Hao, the last emperor of Wu, and “Gan Lu First Year” is 265 AD in the Three Kingdoms period (see fig. 1). Also, an early Yue ware lamp-stand, dating to the Eastern Jin dynasty (317-420 AD) in the collection of the Percival David Foundation, is illustrated by Rosemary Scott, Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art – A Guide to the Collection, London, 1989, p. 34, pl. 15.

The style of the present piece may be also compared to other ornaments or designs on vessels of the Tang period. A large marble brazier with five gilt-bronze lions standing on their hind legs was included in the annual Exhibition of Shoso-in Treasures, Nara, 1987, catalogue no. 14; an incense burner style with five animal-shaped legs is published in The Silk Road and the Shoso-in, pl. 61. Another with a single lion was included in the exhibition The Masterpieces of Yaozhou Ware, The Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka, 1997, cat. no. 106. See a white glazed lamp stand, dated Sui/Tang dynasty (6th – 7th centuries) sold at Christie’s New York, 19th March 2009, lot. Lot 507 (see fig. 2). During Southern & Northern Dynasties, following the technological maturity of celadon ceramics, celadon oil lamps began to replace bronze oil lamps. For example, a Yaozhou ware high-footed dish with lion pedestal, flowers and foliage decorations on interior of Song dynasty from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, is illustrated in Rose Kerr, Song Dynasty Ceramics, London, 2004, pl. 52 (see fig. 3). Meanwhile, the earliest cup types with one dragon’s head at its inner on the current piece were generally made from the Song dynasty (960 – 1279 AD) to Qing dynasties for Gong Dao Bei, a pitcher for serving tea.

In eighteenth century, the wealth and sophistication enjoyed by the Qianlong reign of Qing dynasty elite encouraged the production of numerous luxury wares, among which were sophisticated and attractive incense burner like the present vessel. The body material for the current piece is fine-grained, while the glaze is transparent and green celadon glaze emulating the past relics. Nine dragons propping a deep lotus-shaped bowl on the current vessel emanate vitality and imperial power, and celebrated the dragon’s ability to control the seas and the rains. Incense burner of this form, inscribed with Qianlong mark and period, is very unusual and no other closely related example appears to have been published.

Citation:

  1. Rosemary Scott, Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art – A Guide to the Collection, London, 1989, p. 34, pl. 15.

  2. Exhibition of Shoso-in Treasures, Nara, 1987, catalogue no. 14.

  3. The Silk Road and the Shoso-in,Ry-Oichi Hayashi, 61

  4. The Masterpieces of Yaozhou Ware, The Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka, 1997, cat. no. 106.

  5. Song Dynasty Ceramics, Rose Kerr, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2004, pl. 52.

CATALOGUE ENTRY.

Qianlong