A FINE AND EXTREMELY RARE PAIR OF IMITATION ARCHAIC BRONZE 'HU' VASES CARVED SEAL MARKS AND PERIOD OF QIANLONG
- 37.5 and 38 cm., 14 3/4 and 15 in.
each well potted of oval section, modelled after archaic Western Zhou bronzes, the middle finely carved and moulded in low relief with a band of confronting and addorsed kui dragons, their bodies dissolving into geometric archaistic patterns of 'hooks and volutes', set between rows of raised bosses, the shoulder draped with a row of lappets, rising up to a slightly narrower neck collared by upright plantain leaves and a key-fret encircling the mouth, the neck flanked by a pair of thin kui dragon handles, all above further rows of ruyi heads, wan fret, leaves and key-fret around the tapered foot, covered overall with a semi-opaque caramel coloured glaze dusted with a light layer of gold giving an iridescent sheen, the base incised with a six-character reign mark, fitted with a domed cover of conforming shape, decorated with a similar dragons and lappets, surmounted by an upright ruyi-head finial
Collection of Laurent Héliot.
Sotheby's Hong Kong, 22nd May 1979, lot 247.
Sotheby's Hong Kong, 17th May 1988, lot 88.
Sotheby's Hong Kong, Twenty Years, 1973-1993, Hong Kong, 1993, pl. 358.
Sotheby's. Thirty Years in Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 2003, pl. 162.
Robust in form and decorated with stylised dragons derived from archaic ritual bronzes, this large pair of vases is rare for their imitation of gilt-bronze and is an impressive example of porcelains copying a metal prototype. Porcelain simulations of bronzes are more commonly known covered with a dark glaze to imitate plain or archaic patinated bronze, with gilt reserved for raised decorative elements. No other simulated gilt-bronze vase of this large shape and decoration appears to be recorded, although a fluted gu shape vase also covered entirely with flecked gilding and impressed with a Qianlong reign mark and of the period is published in John Ayers, Chinese Ceramics in the Baur Collection, vol. 2, Geneva, 1999, pl. 252.
The form and design of the present vase is loosely based on archaic bronzes, which appear to have been the most popular amongst the many simulations created by the Imperial Workshops for the Qianlong Emperor. Ritual bronzes, particularly of the late Shang (c.1600-c.1050BC) and Western Zhou (c.1050-771BC) periods which the emperor collected, inspired precise trompe-l'oeil copies as well as 'modern' interpretations like the present vase. Bronze shapes and design elements equally entered the general repertoire of Qianlong porcelain and provided inspiration for vessels otherwise unrelated to the ancient metal versions. Soame Jenyns in Later Chinese Porcelain, London, 1951, p. 60, mentions that a stone tablet was excavated in Jingdezhen in 1915 titled 'Orders and Memoranda on Porcelain' in which Tang Ying, Superintendent at the Imperial Kilns in Jingdezhen, discusses his efforts to simulate bronze vessels.
Bronzes were simulated through a variety of glazes and the dexterity of Qianlong craftsmen is evident in the layered application of colour in the present vases to capture a naturalistic sheen of gilt bronzes. Typically this technique would be combined with a mottled turquoise or green glaze to evoke the blue-green patina of ancient metalwork. The design of these vases fuses archaic designs with later decorative elements: whereas the almost abstract scrolls of dragons derive from bronze design, the bands of lappets and stiff leaves are firmly rooted in the Ming tradition while the contemporary tastes of the Qing period are seen in the ruyi-head motif.
Compare a massive vase in the Palace Museum, Beijing, echoing an archaic bronze zun with the stiff leaves on the neck and foot and dragon scroll of the belly picked out in gilt, illustrated in Kangxi. Yongzheng. Qianlong. Qing Porcelain from the Palace Museum Collection, Beijing, 1989, p. 414, pl. 95, together with a bronze simulation zun, p. 412, pl. 93, and a bell, p. 415, pl. 96. A tripod censer of Qianlong mark and period decorated with similar stylised dragons in gilt is included in Geng Baochang, Ming Qing ciqi jianding, Hong Kong, 1993, p. 282, pl. 486. See also a large robin's egg-ground gilt decorated archaistic vase, with a related band of dragons between bands of ruyi, lappets and bats, from the collection of J.T. Tai, sold in these rooms, 7th October 2010, lot 2128, and formerly from the collections of Lord Loch of Drylaw, Alfred Morrison and Lord Margadale.A smaller white glazed vase of similar form and decoration, with a Qianlong reign mark and of the period, produced in imitation of white jade was included in the Min Chiu Society exhibition Monochrome Ceramics of Ming and Ch'ing Dynasties, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong, 1977, cat. no. 141; and another, with a cover, was sold in these rooms, 14th November 1989, lot 1997.