the stoutly potted large pear-shaped body supported by a wide straight foot, rising to a garlic-bulb shaped mouth, the main body decorated in the wucai palette including iron-red and vivid purplish underglaze-blue, painted with two pairs of ferocious dragons, each pair in mutual pursuit of a 'flaming pearl' amid scattered flowers on meandering leafy stems, beneath a band of upright and pendant triangles containing trefoils at the shoulder, the slender neck with two pairs of birds flying among flowering and fruiting shrubs, the garlic-bulb mouth with multi-colour lotus scrolls, the rim inscribed with a six-character mark in underglaze-blue in a cartouche reserved on a foliate band, wood stand
Wucai wares of the Wanli period belong to one of the most sumptuous group of wares of the Ming dynasty, and are characterised by vibrant designs in vivid colours. The present vase, which derives its form from bronze originals, is magnificent in size and brilliantly painted with dragons on the body, the dynamism of which is accentuated by the elegant scene of birds and flowers on the neck.
Wanli vases of this type are rare; see a closely related example, formerly in the Lindley Scott collection, sold in our London rooms, 4th July 1945, lot 80, and now in the Avery Brundage collection, illustrated in Soame Jenyns, Ming Pottery and Porcelain, London, 1988, pl. 187; one sold in our Los Angeles rooms, 2nd November 1981, lot 304; another in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, included in Minji meihin zuroku, vol. III, Tokyo, 1978, pl. 99; and a fourth vase, in the Chang Foundation, illustrated in James Spencer, Selected Chinese Ceramics from Han to Qing Dynasties, Taipei, 1990, pl. 110. A slightly larger example is published in John Ayers, The Baur Collection. Geneva, vol. 2, Geneva, 1969, pl. A203.
Similar vases can also be found decorated with a dragon and a phoenix; see one published ibid., cat. no. 109; and another included in the exhibition One Thousand Years of Jingdezhen, Hagi Uragami Museum, Hagi, 2007, cat. cover. Another commonly found motif on Wanli vases of this form is that of birds and waterfowl; for example see a pair of vases in the Idemitsu Museum of Arts, included in the exhibition Imperial Overglaze Enamelled Wares in the Late Ming Dynasty, Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka, 1995, cat. no. 22.
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