sturdily potted with curved sides and everted rim, the interior with a central medallion of a bright iron-red, vigorous, five-clawed full-frontal dragon chasing a 'flaming pearl' amidst a turbulent sea of underglaze-blue waves, the cavetto on both the interior and exterior with four rampant red dragons in different lively attitudes, two of them five-clawed and two three-clawed and one of the latter with wings and a fish tail and only one eye visible, all floating among blue clouds, the rim with further waves, the base inscribed with a six-character reign mark within double circles in underglaze blue
A Yongzheng dish of this design and large size in the Palace Museum, Beijing, is published in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Blue and White Porcelain with Underglazed Red, vol. 3, Hong Kong, 2000, pl. 223; another in the Seikado Bunko Art Museum, Tokyo, was included in the exhibition Seikado zo Shincho toji. Keitokuchin kanyo no bi [Qing porcelain collected in the Seikado. Beauty of the Jingdezhen imperial kilns], Seikado Bunko Art Museum, Tokyo, 2006, cat. no. 53; and another in the Meiyintang collection is published in Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, London, 1994-2010, vol. 4, no. 1723. Compare also a Yongzheng dish sold in our London rooms, 6th December 1994, lot 179; and another, with a slightly reduced rim, sold at Christie’s London, 10th April 1978, lot 49.
The decoration found in this dish is a Yongzheng period interpretation of an early-Ming pattern. The Yongzheng emperor was known to have sent antiques from the palace to Jingdezhen in order to establish standards and as model and inspiration for designs. The dragon design is after a Xuande mark and period dish painted with a side-facing five-clawed dragon amongst crashing waves in the centre and the side decorated with three dragons striding among clouds. An example of the Xuande dish, excavated at the waste heap of the Ming Imperial Kilns in Zhushan, was included in the exhibition Xuande Imperial Kiln Excavated at Jingdezhen, Chang Foundation, Taipei, 1998, cat. no. 87 (fig. 1).
The creative ingenuity of the Yongzheng potter in his use of space is evident from the successful transfer of a pattern that was originally made for much smaller vessels. The different design elements on this dish are perfectly composed to give no hint of overcrowding or awkward gap that could hinder the overall harmony. While maintaining the essence of the original design, the artist created a motif that is familiar yet spontaneous. The side-facing dragon has been replaced with a frontal dragon and the crashing waves no longer cover any part of the dragon’s body to give a greater sense of the creature’s dominance and strength. The use of red heightens the contrast between the dynamism of the background and that of the dragons while endowing the scene with further auspicious meaning. Furthermore, the additional crested rolling wave band encircling the rim of the dish reveals the craftsman’s skill through his recognition that a large dish such as the present would need a band to bring the expansive design together; an element that was not necessary for the smaller Ming dishes.
Yongzheng dishes of this type continued to be favoured by the Qianlong emperor who commissioned the making of very similar vessels. While at first glance they appear to be almost identical, upon close examination it is evident that the artists of the two periods interpreted the design differently. In comparison to the Qianlong dragons, the Yongzheng rendering is more robust and ferocious and the strength of the creature is reinforced by the crashing waves which become more stylised and uniform in the later version. Moreover, the four dragons on the rim placed on the axis of the central dragon on the Yongzheng dish has shifted 45 degrees anticlockwise and the previously ethereal clouds swirling around them also embody a similar sense of uniformity as the waves on the Qianlong dish. The subtlety and freer quality of the Yongzheng version reflects a very different emperor to his successor Qianlong. Examples of dishes from both periods are illustrated in Min Shin no bijutsu [Ming and Qing art], Tokyo, 1982, pls. 154 and 172; and another Qianlong example in the Nanjing Museum was included in the exhibition Qing Imperial Porcelain of the Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong Reigns, Art Gallery, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 1995, cat. no. 81, and also illustrated on the dust jacket.
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