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The reasons this Yongzheng moon flask is so ravishingly beautiful and pleasing to the eye are the same as those that make us admire its ‘prototypes’, the moon flasks of the Yongle reign (1403-24); the Qing piece is not copying the Ming versions, but in terms of material, form and decoration is equally successful. The Ming shape has been updated by the addition of curls at the handles, and the exquisite subtle shading of the glaze created by the relief carving is here emphasized even further; the glaze is more translucent and more bluish in tone – a tone more difficult to achieve. The overall effect of the Yongzheng flask is softer and more feminine in appearance compared to the more masculine formality of Kangxi examples.
The calligraphically conceived seal mark seen on this flask is of a rather rare type, which probably was used only for part of the reign and superseded by another type of seal mark towards the end of the Yongzheng Emperor’s rule. For a discussion of these marks, see Peter Y.K. Lam, ‘Four Studies on Yongzheng and Qianlong Imperial Ware’ in the exhibition catalogue Ethereal Elegance. Porcelain Vases of the Imperial Qing. The Huaihaitang Collection, Art Museum, Institute of Chinese Studies, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 2007, p. 38, figs. 7.8 and 7.9.
A very similar moon flask in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, was included in the Museum’s exhibition Qing Kang Yong Qian ming ci tezhan/Catalog of the Special Exhibition of K’ang-hsi, Yung-cheng and Ch’ien-lung Porcelain Ware from the Ch’ing Dynasty in the National Museum Palace (sic), Taipei, 1986, cat. no. 61; another identical piece, but without reign mark, in the collection of the Seikadō Bunko Art Museum, Tokyo, was included in the Museum’s exhibition Seikadō zō Shinchō tōji. Keitokuchin kanyō no bi [Qing dynasty porcelain collected in the Seikadō. Beauty of Jingdezhen imperial kilns], Tokyo, 2006, cat. no. 106.
For an almost identical example sold at auction, see the moonflask from the collections of Sir Frederick Bruce, British Ambassador to China from 1860 to 1865 and Raymond F.A. Riesco, sold in our London rooms, 11th December 1984, lot 437, and more recently in our New York rooms, 16th/17th September 2014, lot 157. See also a piece with ormolu mounts around the neck and sides, sold in our London rooms 15th June 1982, lot 356; and another sold in these rooms, 19th November 1986, lot 241.
This moon-flask shape with curling handles was also used for other designs, all being most refined examples; compare the famous moon flask in the Sir Percival David Collection in the British Museum, London, which is painted with two different bird-and-flower motifs in famille-rose, illustrated in Regina Krahl and Jessica Harrison-Hall, Chinese Ceramics. Highlights from the Sir Percival David Collection, London, 2009, pl. 44; or a blue-and-white example with a Ming-style composite flower scroll in the Palace Museum, Beijing, published in Geng Baochang, ed., Gugong Bowuyuan cang Qingdai yuyao ciqi [Qing porcelains from the Imperial kilns preserved in the Palace Museum], Beijing, 2005, vol. I, book 2, pl. 41.
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