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A magnificent carved celadon-glazed ‘dragon’ jar seal mark and period
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About the object

Superbly potted with a generous well-rounded ovoid body gently rising from a tapered banded foot to a short waisted neck and lipped mouth, the exterior crisply carved overall in varying levels of relief with a wondrous and lively scene of two large five-clawed dragons, one in a dominant position, the other slightly subordinate, depicted writhing ferociously through flames and dense scrolling lingzhi-shaped clouds, their scaly bodies intricately incised with naturalistic detail and prominently executed in bold relief, particularly their protruding noses which are executed in higher relief than the rest of their facial features, further emphasising the impression of the dragons emanating dynamically from amongst the clouds, all above whirlpool-like waves in a turbulent sea, with frothy crests depicted breaking against jagged rocks, the whole surface superbly applied with an exquisite clear watery blue-green glaze, skilfully transmuting to a white on the outlines of the dragons and clouds, the unglazed footring burnt a rich russet-brown, the even celadon-glazed base carved in relief with a six-character seal mark within a recessed square cartouchePROVENANCECollection of Lord Loch of Drylaw (1827-1900). Collection of Alfred Morrison (1821-97), Fonthill House, Tisbury, Wiltshire (no. 643). The Rt. Hon The Lord of Margadale of Islay, T.D. Christie’s London, 18th October 1971, lot 51.Spink & Son Ltd, London. Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 17th May 1988, lot 75.Collection of the Idemitsu Museum, Tokyo.LITERATURESotheby’s Hong Kong – Twenty Years, Hong Kong, 1993, pl. 310.Kanzō meihinsen [Selected masterpieces from the museum], vol. 2, Idemitsu Museum, Tokyo, 1996, cat. no. 103.\nTwo Dragons Dancing among Waves\nRegina Krahl This jar, with its superbly harmonious combination of form, carving style, design and glaze colour, is a characteristic product of the period, when Tang Ying (1682-1756) was supervisor of the imperial kilns in Jingdezhen, and could have been produced in the late Yongzheng period (1723-35) just as well as in the early Qianlong reign (1736-95). It was a period when the expectations on a piece of porcelain were set to the highest level ever, every aspect of a vessel was precisely calculated and planned, down to minute detail, but at the same time, every object was regarded as a work of art in its entirety. The present piece, which is a particularly satisfactory example, is a major monochrome vessel.\nCeramics with celadon glazes never lost their attraction, from the very first moment they began to be produced, almost four thousand years ago. Remarkably, over this long period ever new ways could be found to set in scene the wonderful glaze colour. With the present jar, which stands in this long tradition, the potters again discovered a new format. Although the shape with its generous, well-rounded outline that curves harmoniously towards the rim, would seem to be a classic jar form, vessels with similar proportions had previously only been created in very small format; and whereas dragons among waves and clouds were an eternal subject to decorate carved vessels, the style of the present piece is exceptional. \nPairs of dragons, one dominating, the other slightly subordinate, were not depicted in this lively form before the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). Until then, it had been common to show two dragons as a more or less identical pair and to arrange them symmetrically on the surface to be decorated, as auspicious symbols. On porcelain, dragons began to come alive through the artist Liu Yuan (c. 1638-c. 1685), an accomplished painter, calligrapher, wood and stone carver who, during a brief period in the Kangxi reign, from 1681 to 1688, was employed by the court to design porcelains for the imperial factory at Jingdezhen, when Zang Yingxuan was its Director. Liu’s dragons were powerful animals splashing about among waves and shooting through clouds in a seemingly naturalistic manner. On Kangxi porcelain, they were, however, usually depicted as single animals.\nThe illustration of such animals in pairs was perfected under Tang Ying. The harmonious interaction between the two creatures, dancing around each other as they dive and rise from the waters, is a design challenge that was more commonly restricted to two-dimensional ‘canvases’ such as moonflasks (fig. 1). The tour-de-force of depicting such a lively scene in the round, as on this jar, is a triumph of porcelain design. No particular meaning has been proposed for such scenes, but it would seem that it could only refer to the Emperor and the Heir Apparent.\nInspiration may have come from a type of massive, wide-mouthed celadon jar of the Yongzheng period, such as one in the Palace Museum, Beijing, from the Qing court collection, illustrated in Zhongguo taoci quanji [Complete series on Chinese ceramics], Shanghai, 1999-2000, vol. 14, pl. 214, and also in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Monochrome Porcelain, Hong Kong, 1999, pl. 135 (fig. 2). The Yongzheng jar, however, has deeper and sharper carving, which on the Qianlong example has been softened and the impression thus completely changed, to become much more subtle and to highlight the tonal nuances of the glaze colour particularly well. With the dragons’ faces executed in higher relief than the rest, the impression of the animals emerging from among the clouds has been perfectly evoked, while the background designs are so vigorously rendered that the clouds seem to quiver and the waves to splatter, thus reinforcing the ‘movement’ of the animals.\nOutstanding among celadon porcelains is the present glaze colour. A clear watery blue-green, which is difficult to reach, as it requires pure reduction firing, was achieved on some of the celebrated wares from the Longquan kilns of the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279). Thereafter, the technique appears to have been lost, as it is not known from celadon wares of the Yuan (1279-1368) and Ming (1368-1644) periods. In the Qing dynasty it was revived again on some of the finest porcelains of the Yongzheng reign, but remains rare, is generally restricted to smaller vessels, and seldom found on pieces with relief-carved decoration. On the fine white porcelain body produced at Jingdezhen the blue-green takes on an even more brilliant, translucent tone than it did on the heavier, less refined body available at Longquan.\nRelated carved celadon vessels of the 18th century generally have deeper carving and a less bluish glaze, such as, for example, a tianqiuping in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, illustrated in Oriental Ceramics, the World’s Great Collections, Tokyo, New York, and San Francisco, 1980–82, vol. 11, col. pl. 29. Compare also another celadon tianqiuping carved with a much tamer dragon design in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Monochrome Porcelain, op.cit., pl. 137 (fig. 3). Another very similar jar was sold in these rooms, 24th November 1987, lot 119, and one with polished base and effaced reign mark at Christie’s Hong Kong, 2nd November 1999, lot 580.
HK
HK
HK

condition

The jar is in overall very good condition, with only a very shallow glaze flake of approx. 0.2 cm to the mouthrim, as well as a few natural firing pinholes (visible in catalogue). "In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue. NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF BUSINESS PRINTED IN THE SALE CATALOGUE."

dimensions

34.4 cm., 13 1/2  in.

literature

Sotheby’s Hong Kong – Twenty Years, Hong Kong, 1993, pl. 310. Kanzō meihinsen [Selected masterpieces from the museum], vol. 2, Idemitsu Museum, Tokyo, 1996, cat. no. 103.

provenance

Collection of Lord Loch of Drylaw (1827-1900). Collection of Alfred Morrison (1821-97), Fonthill House, Tisbury, Wiltshire (no. 643). The Rt. Hon The Lord of Margadale of Islay, T.D. Christie’s London, 18th October 1971, lot 51. Spink & Son Ltd, London. Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 17th May 1988, lot 75. Collection of the Idemitsu Museum, Tokyo.


*Note that the price is not recalculated to the current value, but refers to the actual final price at the time the product was sold.

*Note that the price is not recalculated to the current value, but refers to the actual final price at the time the product was sold.


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