Copper red was notoriously difficult to fire due to the temperamental nature of the copper pigment. J.M. Addis in Chinese Porcelain from the Addis Collection. Twenty-two Pieces of Chingtechen Porcelain Presented to the British Museum, London, 1979, pp 9-10, discusses the experimental techniques of the Yuan dynasty and suggests that the earliest use of copper-oxide was probably as a broad band forming the background for an incised design. By the early Ming dynasty during the Yongle and Xuande reigns monochrome copper-red porcelains were perfected but the large number of discarded sherds at the Jingdezhen kiln sites highlights the difficulties experienced by even the most highly accomplished Imperial potters of that time to achieve satisfactory results. After the Xuande reign, the copper pigment was therefore almost completely abandoned. Copper-red glazes were revived on a grand scale under the Kangxi Emperor after two centuries of neglect and famous monochrome techniques, langyao and ‘peachbloom’ were developed during this reign. Despite those technological feats, it is the combined palette of underglaze blue and red that constitute what is considered the earliest Imperial commission by the Kangxi Emperor; a series of scholarly-taste landscape-decorated wares made for the Zhonghe Pavillion with cyclical dates corresponding to 1671-3.
The present piece evokes these early Kangxi Imperial wares in the painting style of the landscapes. However, the quality and even application of the fugitive pigment, the generously rounded interpretation of the form, accentuated by raised bands, and the extravagant butterfly-form handles, place this vase in the early 18th century. The Yongzheng and Qianlong emperors favored works that were visually stunning but that were also steeped in tradition. Related vases, painted in the underglaze red and blue palette with borders of intricate diaper patterns similar to the present example, include a lantern-form vase decorated with the ‘Sanxing’ sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 19th May 1982, lot 261; also an example decorated with deer and pine trees from the Wang Xing Lou Collection, included in the exhibition Imperial Perfection. Chinese Palace Porcelain of Three Great Emperors, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, 2004, cat. no. 27; and another with a Qianlong seal mark and of the period, decorated with deer in a landscape sold at Christie's London, 9th December 1985, lot 124. Compare also three large, blue or red-diaper ground decorated vases; the first, of rouleau form, attributed to the Kangxi period and depicting the ‘Three Star Gods’, sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 23rd May 1978, lot 99; another large bottle vase with dragons on a densely patterned red ground, described as 18th century, sold in these rooms 17th September, lot 263; and the most closely related example, a large handled bottle vase with a blue diaper ground with red florets identical to the present example enclosing shaped panels of landscapes and dragons, the shoulder with similar shou characters sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 24th-25th November 1981, lot 264.
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