The simplicity of this vase, from the exquisitely conceived minimalist silhouette and the subtle translucent glaze, hints at the masterful craftsmanship involved in creating such a piece. It encapsulates the Yongzheng Emperor’s refined taste for celebrated wares of the past with Japanese influences to result in a piece that is at once both familiar and innovative. The translucency of the glaze, coupled with the carved pleats and ribbon-tied cord delight the senses, enticing the viewer to draw close and admire it fully in its silky tactility.
The ribbon-tied decoration on this vase was favoured by the Emperor and incorporated into designs of lacquer, metal-bodied wares and porcelain during his reign, which was further explored under the succeeding Qianlong Emperor. According to the catalogue to the exhibition Qing Legacies. The Sumptuous Art of Imperial Packaging, The Macau Museum of Art, Macau, 2000, p. 121, in the 10th year of the Yongzheng reign (in accordance with 1732), he received two Japanese-style lacquer boxes simulating a box tied with cloth and admired them so much that he ordered another to be made. This textile-wrapped design was also transferred to metal-bodied wares, as seen in a yellow-ground jar painted with a pink brocade sash, in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, illustrated in Enamel Ware in the Ming and Ch’ing Dynasties, Taipei, 1999, pl. 108, together with a Qianlong version, pl. 109.
The present vase appears to be a variation of this theme, simulating a pleated pouch drawn together by a relief-carved cord in place of the elaborate sash. The only other closely related piece appears to be the companion to the present, in the Baur collection, Geneva, illustrated in John Ayers, Chinese Ceramics the The Baur Collection, vol. 2, Geneva, 1999, pl. 279. A Qianlong mark and period version, from the Qing court collection and still in Beijing, is published in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Monochrome Porcelain, Hong Kong, 1999, pl. 139.
Such understated interpretation endows the vessel with a sense of modesty as well as evoking rope-twist designs found on archaic bronze wine vessels of the Warring States period (475-221 BC), which were originally intended to imitate the use of rope to carry vessels; for example see a bronze hu from the Palace Museum, Beijing, included in The Imperial Packing Art of the Qing Dynasty, Beijing, 2000, pl. 7. This simple design was recreated in several variations, all covered in a glaze inspired by Song wares; a Guan-type vase in the Palace Museum, Beijing, is included in Qingdai yuyao ciqi [Qing porcelains from the imperial kilns preserved in the Palace Museum], vol. 1, pt. II, Beijing, 2005, pl. 16; a line drawing of a hu-shape vessel is published in Geng Baochang, Ming Qing ciqi jianding [Appraisal of Ming and Qing porcelain], Hong Kong, p. 238, fig. 20; and another, with a more complex rope-twist design on a celadon-glazed globular vase, also inscribed with a similar archaistic reign mark, from the collection of Hermann Dobrikow, sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 3rd June 2015, lot 3103.
In its arresting luminous glaze, this vase reflects the Yongzheng Emperor’s penchant for celebrated Song dynasty wares and the remarkable technical developments achieved at the imperial kiln to meet his specific taste. While a delicate, almost watery, celadon glaze had already been created in the Kangxi reign, achieved by reducing the amount of iron typically found on Song dynasty Longquan celadons, it was during the Yongzheng period that production of celadon wares greatly expanded. According to the Taocheng shiyi jishi beiji [Commemorative stele on ceramic production], compiled in 1735 by the brilliant supervisor of the imperial factory, Tang Ying (1682-1756), several varieties of celadon glazes were experimented with at the time (see S.W. Bushell, Oriental Ceramic Art, London, 1981, p. 197). One of his successful recipes was to study in detail the finest antique ceramics of the Song and Ming periods to understand their workmanship and physical quality, but also to comprehend what makes their shapes and designs so harmonious and satisfying, and then to apply this knowledge to redesigned, modern versions inspired by the antiques. The proficiency required in understanding the chemical compositions and the firing of such monochrome vessels is reflected in the saying, "Nine failures for ten charged kilns". This vase is remarkable for its attractive luminous bluish glaze, a difficult tone to achieve, the purity of which is accentuated by the relief carving and the graceful curves of its profile.
The seal mark on the base of this vase is also notable. A similar mark is discussed by Peter Y.K. Lam in ‘Four Studies on Yongzheng and Qianlong Imperial Ware’, in the catalogue to the exhibition Ethereal Elegance. Porcelain Vases of the Imperial Qing. The Huaihaitang Collection, Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 2007, p. 54, where several seal-script (zhuanshu) marks are illustrated, p. 38. Lam notes the rarity of the present mark and suggests that this style was probably used only for part of the reign before being superseded by another type towards the end of the reign. A variation of the mark, inscribed in two horizontal rows is found on a Ru-type glazed cup from the J.M. Hu collection, sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 30th November 2011, lot 2929.
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