Yuan dynasty: A Molded Longquan Celadon ‘Eight Taoist Immortals’, Octagonal Meiping.

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DESCRIPTION.

with a well potted and set with eight-facetted sides above a flared foot with unglazed base in reddish brown color, the wide body molded in attractively relief with the eight Taoist immortals, each standing in animatedly posing and holding their respective characteristic instruments within a bracket-lobed cartouche, dividing floral cartouches above and below, covered with a celadon glaze of olive-green tone thinning on the raised molded edges and finely large iron black crackles.

RESEARCH & ESSAY.

The tradition of green celadon ware production reached its peak in the Northern Song dynasty (960 – 1127 AD) that continued and developed the earlier celadon wares of yueyau types from Tang dynasty. It was not until the Song dynasty that celadon wares tradition mushroomed, even it reached its zenith during the Yuan dynasty (1279 – 1368) with a wide range of green glaze tones, starting from bluish, blue-green, and olive-green glazes depending on the thickness of the applied glaze with its own decorative style and techniques as well as innovative forms.

The molded in relief technique on the current piece refers to a ceramic decorative technique initially used on greenwares in the Jin dynasty and Changsa wares in the Tang dynasty (618 – 906 AD). The technique was also applied on metalwork that was exported as a gift to overseas. For example, the Tang precious octagonal gold cups of 9th century divided into eight-facetted panels that is carved and molded with a group of eight Persian musicians was found in the cargo of the Belitung wreck in Indonesia (see fig. 1) and in the Hejiacun hoard. There are numbers of Tang precious metal vessel executed in faceted shape like the present jar. Please read the illustration in ‘A Remarkable Tang Dynasty Cargo’, Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, R. Scott vol. 67, 2002-2003, pp. 20-22. In later reigns, Song and Jin dynasties, the molded in relief technique designs was frequently tied with Chinese sources, especially the religious themes. One of the well-known religious figures on the Chinese arts is the Eight Taoist Immortals that was popularized in literature and began to appear regularly in wall murals and sculptures, and then it was heightened on decorative ceramics arts during the Yuan dynasty.

The present vase is an important example of Yuan celadon octagonal meiping executed in intricate molded and relief with ‘Eight Taoist Immortals’ design. That making an attractive profile on the current vase is in its eight-facetted sides depicted with Taoist immortals on bracket-lobed cartouches that is covered with an olive-green glaze tone thinning on the raised molded edges appearing realistic and rendering three-dimensional effect. The Eight Taoist Immortals (八仙) symbol like on the present facetted shape vessel was recognized and venerated to be signs of prosperity and longevity in ancient Chinese history. As a tradition of depicting figures of folktale deriving from an ancient practice in Chinese art, the Eight Taoist Immortals images became popular when Taoism gained popularity in the Yuan dynasty, especially when Taoists, led by priest Wang Chongyang, petitioned to gain favor with the Yuan court although they were lost by Buddhists under dispute in 1258 and 1281.

This ovoid vase has an octagonal cross section and each of the eight sides is achieved by a combinative of sprig-molding and relief designs that required times to process it. The types of the celadon octagonal vase like the present piece are preserved in the important museums and collections. For example. a Longquan celadon vase molded decorative panels depicting biscuit Eight Taoist Immortals with iron spots is from the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in Zhongguo wenwu jinghua daquan – taoci juan, Taipei, 1993, p. 356, no. 626 (fig. 2). Another is from Percival David Foundation, discussed by R. Scott in Imperial Taste – Chinese Ceramics from the Percival David Foundation, San Francisco, 1989, pp. 48 – 49, no. 23. The other vase of this type depicting the Eight Taoist Immortals, with a crackled glaze and a reduced foot is from the British Museum, illustrated in Oriental Ceramics, The World’s Great Collections, volume 5, The British Museum, Tokyo, New York and San Francisco, 1981, col. pl. 75. Another is from the Zwinger Palace, Dresden, illustrated in Farbige Glasuren auf Porzellan, 1990, no. 11; another from the Phoenix Art Museum, Arizona, while a slightly more elongated vase of similar appearance in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, is illustrated in Chinese Ceramics, A New Comprehensive Survey, He Li, New York, 1996, p. 187, no. 364.

A related Longquan celadon-glazed octagonal vase, meiping, Yuan dynasty, of similar form and decoration (26.5cm in Hight) sold at Bonhams London, 9th November 2017, lot. 37, for £ 47,500, initially estimated between £ 17,000 – £ 23,000 (see fig. 3). A similar meiping vase (24.1 cm in height), but with iron spots, was sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 30 November 2011, lot 3010, for HKD 6,020,000, initially estimated between HKD 4,000,000 – HKD 7,000,000 (see fig. 4). Compare with Longquan celadon-glazed octagonal meiping vase (25 cm in height) in different green glaze tone, dated Yuan dynasty, sold at Sotheby’s London, 13th July 2005, lot. 194, estimated between GBP80,000 to GBP100,000 (see fig. 5).

The present jar was excavated from ancient China temple that is unserviceable in Palembang – Sumatra, Indonesia in March 1997. This celadon-glazed vase is a reflection of a contemporary interest in earlier metalwork from Middle East that resulted a cultural contact between Southeast Asia and China in fourteenth century. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, the Eight Taoist Immortals was heightened and frequently associated with other prominent spiritual deities in artwork.

Citation:

  1. ‘A Remarkable Tang Dynasty Cargo’, Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, R. Scott vol. 67, 2002-2003, pp. 20-22.

  2. Zhongguo wenwu jinghua daquan – taoci juan, Palace Museum, Taipei, 1993, p. 356, no. 626.

  3. Imperial Taste – Chinese Ceramics from the Percival David Foundation, R. Scott San Francisco, 1989, pp. 48 – 49, no. 23.

  4. Oriental Ceramics, The World’s Great Collections, volume 5, The British Museum, Tokyo, New York and San Francisco, 1981, col. pl. 75.

  5. Farbige Glasuren auf Porzellan, Zwinger Palace, Dresden, 1990, no. 11.

  6. Chinese Ceramics, A New Comprehensive Survey, He Li, New York, 1996, p. 187, no. 364.

CATALOGUE ENTRY.

Yuan dynasty