Lot 444
  • 444


80,000 - 120,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Stoneware
  • Height of each tile 14 1/4  in., 36.2 cm; Width 22 in., 56 cm
the rectangular tiles forming two friezes well modeled and carved in varying relief, applied with yellow, green, and white glazes, the first depicting a fierce dragon, the expressive face with bulging eyes and knitted brows, craning back towards its tail, the writhing body with well-defined, incised crescent scales and raised green filaments of flames flanking the limbs; the other tiles forming a phoenix in flight, the head raised back towards the tail plumes trailing behind and mingling with the dense green foliage background, each mythical beast flanked by massive peony blossoms  (6)

Catalogue Note

Skilfully modeled and vibrantly glazed, these large ceramic tiles represent a group of dynamic sculptural components that adorned some of the most ambitious architecture during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). Stoneware tiles sculpted with auspicious symbols and mythical creatures were extensively utilized in imperial palaces and temples, such as along roof ridges, not only to serve a decorative purpose, but also to convey specific symbolic messages and to ward off evildoers. The writhing dragon on the present lot, vividly represented traversing peonies and foliage, symbolizes wisdom and power and is believed to possess the talismanic power to frighten away evil spirits. Its harmonic counterpart, a lively phoenix sculpted with crescent eyes and an elaborate crown flying amongst foliage, signifies immortality and resurrection. This symbolic union of both mythical creatures in the current piece together reflects the deep-rooted Chinese belief in the complementary powers of yin and yang.

Glazed tiles featuring a prominent four-clawed dragon and a gracefully rendered phoenix, both notable emblems associated with the emperor and empress respectively, are testaments to the importance of the location where it originally belonged. Stoneware tiles of such design are found on temples in Shanxi; see the centrepieces on the front hall at Shuanglingsi temple, Shanxi, depicting flying dragons amongst foliage in sancai glaze dated to 1499, illustrated in Clarence Eng, Colours and Contrasts. Ceramic Traditions in Chinese Architecture, Leiden, 2015, pl. 4.79, together with a sancai-glazed centrepiece modeled with phoenixes, on the Mituodian [Ambitabha Hall] at Guangshengsi Temple, Shanxi, pl. 4.67.

A pair of smaller sancai-glazed tilework panels decorated with two writhing dragons and immortals was sold at Christie’s New York, 15th September 2011, lot 1481. Compare also a set of fahua-type glazed ceramic tiles of larger sizes, molded with vigorous three-clawed dragons, sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 23rd March 1993, lot 583; and another smaller example sold at Christie’s New York, 3rd June 1993, lot 218.