As a direct result of the newly-established foreign Mongol rule in China, craftsmen were freed from the Southern Song ideals of restraint and order and encouraged to incorporate outside influences specifically to comply with the tastes of their numerous overseas customers. It is no coincidence that two of the largest collections of high-quality 14th century Chinese ceramics are found in the Topkapi Saray, Istanbul, and the Ardabil Shrine, Iran. Craftsmen experimented with different combinations of forms and designs from various kilns in China, seen in the form of this vase. The high shoulder and tapering body on a splayed foot, for example, are comparable to Cizhou baluster vases, such as one decorated with a four-clawed dragon, in the Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas, illustrated in Nelson Gallery of Art, Atkins Museum, vol. II, Kansas City, 1973, p. 84.
Longquan celadon vases decorated with applied dragons are very rare; see a pear-shaped example of similar size, the four-clawed dragon facing right and chasing a flaming pearl over similarly rendered crashing waves, included in Celadons from Longquan Kilns, Taipei, 1998, pl. 162; and a guan with a three-clawed dragon, published in Zhongguo meishu quanji. Taoci [Complete series on Chinese art. Arts and crafts section: ceramics], vol. 3, Shanghai, 1988, pl. 55, and Wenwu, 1980, no. 9, pp. 90-91, where it is illustrated and discussed. Compare also a guan carved with a related motif of a four-clawed dragon, included in the exhibition Östasiatisk Keramik ur med. dr. Bo Ewerts samling, Röhsska Konstslöjdmuseet, Gothenburg, 1971, cat. no. 41, and sold in our London rooms, 24th July 1973, lot 56. The creatures are reminiscent of those found on underglaze-blue painted porcelain of the period; see the four-clawed dragons on the famous pair of dated temple vases, from the collection of Sir Percival David and now in the British Museum, London, illustrated in Oriental Ceramics. The World’s Great Collections, vol. 6, New York, 1982, col. pl. 25, one of the pair previously sold in our London rooms, 6th June 1935, lot 89, from the collection of Charles E. Russell.
S-shaped fish-dragon handles were introduced at the Longquan kilns in the late Song period, when we see them similarly flanking the neck of mallet vases. On the present piece, the craftsmen have depicted the animals’ faces and scaly bodies with an impressive level of detail and exaggerated the original sinuous form through tails which curl up to meet the body, thus creating a more baroque effect than in the Song dynasty. The way the dragons aim for the flaming pearl on the upper register of the neck emphasises the dynamism of this vase. Compare a mallet vase with similarly detailed dragon handles, but closer to the austere Song shape, from the collection of Enid and F. Brodie Lodge and the British Rail Pension Fund, sold twice in our London rooms, 8th July 1975, lot 91, and again, 12th December 1989, lot 93. It is highly unusual to find the applied bosses around the shoulder of a vase, which are more commonly seen on drum-shaped narcissus basins, where they imitate the nails that hold the drum skin in place.
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