Ming dynasty moonflasks began to be copied on a large scale in the Yongzheng period (1723-35), when the whole repertoire of Yongle forms was reproduced. The Yongzheng versions generally follow the Ming shapes rather closely, either with little or no foot, similar to the present example, or with a central raised boss or garlic-head mouth. During the Qianlong reign (1736-95), the potters of the Imperial kilns appear to have been more interested in diversifying handle shapes than the vessel's silhouette. It was during this time that handles in the form of archaistic animals, birds, and plants were applied to moonflasks. Even the painting style of the early Ming period was consciously recreated during the Qing dynasty. The porcelain painters of the 18th century were so enamored with the appearance of early 15th century blue and white that they developed a special painting manner to imitate the accidental imperfections of their models, namely by recreating the so-called 'heaped and piled' effect of darker spots of cobalt blue through deliberate uneven dotting.
The design of the present flask with a frontal dragon is very rare. Examples of this type with a Qianlong seal mark include: one in the Shanghai Museum, Shanghai, illustrated in Qingdai ciqi jianding [Appraisal of Qing porcelain], Shanghai, 1994, pl. 159; another with the dragon clutching the pearl, from the Wang Xing Lou Collection, is published in Imperial Perfection. The Palace Porcelain of Three Chinese Emperors, Hong Kong, 2004, pl. 20, a third flask with very similar decoration but on a splayed foot sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 3rd April 2018, lot 3204. Compare also a larger version, set with chilong handles, sold in our London rooms, 7th November 2007, lot 407.
Moonflasks painted with a slightly different design, for instance, with the frontal dragon reserved in a central roundel, are also known. See one in the Palace Museum, Beijing, from the Qing Court Collection, published in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Blue and white Porcelain with Underglazed Red (III), Hong Kong, 2000, pl.132, where the piece is mentioned in reference to a Qianlong order of 1738 to copy a Xuande blue and white flask. Two Qianlong flasks of this design sold in our Hong Kong rooms, one 29th October 2001, lot 543 and the other 8th October 2009, lot 1701. See also a blue and white moonflask with dragons in profile sold in our London rooms 6th November 2013, lot 16.
Although no other examples of 'dragon' moonflasks lacking a Qing dynasty reign mark appear to be known, there are many examples of unmarked Ming-style moonflasks. For example, see the moonflask painted with birds on a flowering branch formerly the collection of Richard de la Mare, then the Su Lin An Collection and, most recently the Meiyintang Collection, sold three times: first in our London rooms, 2nd April 1974, lot 369; then twice in our Hong Kong rooms, 31st October 1995, lot 325 and again 7th April 2011, lot 76. See also a 'peony' moonflask sold in these rooms, 24th March 2018, lot 1522.
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