Lot 104
  • 104

AN EXCEPTIONALLY RARE AND IMPORTANT BLUE AND WHITE 'LOTUS' RITUAL WATER FLASK MING DYNASTY, YONGLE PERIOD |

Estimate
60,000 - 80,000 USD
Sold
137,500 USD
bidding is closed

Description

  • Porcelain
  • Height 12 3/8  in., 31.4 cm 
the elegant baluster body rising from a tall stepped spreading foot to a slender cylindrical neck divided by an angled disc-shaped collar at the mid-section, painted in rich tones of underglaze blue with characteristic 'heaping and piling', a continuous lotus scroll at the body framed by borders of lappets, the neck with scattered flower heads, further lappet bands at the collar and the rim encircled by a floral band, the concave underside glazed white

Catalogue Note

This impressive imperial Yongle kundika, or ‘sweet dew vase’ (ganluping), appears to be unique, although a vessel of this form and design – if not this very piece – appears to be have been in the imperial collection during the reign of the Yongzheng Emperor (r. 1723-1735). The flask is depicted in one of the Guwantu (‘Pictures of antiquities’), painted in the seventh year of the Yongzheng period, 1729, and now in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, which records some 250 ceramics and other works of art apparently from the imperial collection; see Regina Krahl, ‘The Yongzheng Emperor and the Qing Court Collection’, Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, vol. 80, 2015-16, p. 129, fig. 8 e (fig. 1).

While no other blue-and-white flasks of this form appear to be recorded from the Yongle reign, this piece recalls another extremely rare ‘holy water vessel’ from this period, made for use in Buddhist rituals, of pear-shaped form and with a long, thin spout, but also raised on an elaborate stepped pedestal, from the collections of H.R.N. Norton, J.T. Tai and Roger Pilkington, sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 6th April 2016, lot 15 (fig. 2).

The present form can be traced back to holy water bottles depicted in paintings at least since the Five Dynasties period (907-960) in the hands of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. An important example from the Yaozhou kilns of the Northern Song dynasty (960-1127), from the collection of Charles E. Russell, was also in the Pilkington collection and sold in our Hong Kong rooms 6th April 2016, lot 5, where this shape is discussed in the catalogue, p. 30.

In the Yongle period, the Jingdezhen kilns also tried to copy these celadon versions of the Song dynasty, but only a discarded example is known from the waste heaps of the Ming imperial kiln sites. The bottle, with a fairly dark olive-green glaze perhaps intended to imitate Yaozhou celadon, has been excavated at Zhushan and was included in the exhibition Jingdezhen chutu Ming chu guanyao ciqi/Imperial Hongwu and Yongle Porcelain Excavated at Jingdezhen, Chang Foundation, Taipei, 1996, cat. no. 121.

Compare also another 15th century holy water bottle of blue-and-white porcelain, probably slightly later in date, of different design, of lobed shape and with a smaller foot, illustrated in Giuseppe Eskenazi in collaboration with Hajni Elias, A Dealer’s Hand. The Chinese Art World Through the Eyes of Giuseppe Eskenazi, London, 2012, pl. 340.

The basic form and design of the present flask are, however, much better known from pieces of the Qianlong reign (1736-1795) painted in iron-red. The Qianlong Emperor had himself painted seated in a garden and looking at a painting, next to a table laid with various vessels, among them a red-decorated kundika of this form. A similar vessel of the Qianlong period from the Qing court collection and still in the Palace Museum, Beijing, is illustrated in The Palace Museum’s Essential Collections: Chinese Ceramic Wares with Polychrome Glaze, Hong Kong, 2016, pl. 272, where it is stated, p. 314, that “the Qing court archive records that Tang Ying, the Director General of the Imperial Kiln, had been commissioned by the imperial court to produce this type of pure-water vase with decorative designs in iron-red enamel on a white ground.” A vessel like the present one may well have been sent to Jingdezhen as a model.

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