See a similar tea-dust glazed 'three rams' vase of Qianlong mark and period sold three times in these rooms: 28th November 1979 lot 317, 18th November 1986, lot 99, from the collection of T.Y. Chao, and 29th April 1992, lot 89, and once in our New York rooms, 27th November 1990, lot 34, from the collection of Ira and Nancy Roger, illustrated in Sotheby's. Thirty Years in Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 2003, pl. 157; and another, sold in these rooms, 5th October 2016, lot 3656.
Vases of this form were also decorated in Ru or guan type glazes. Compare two Ru-type glazed examples in the National Palace Museum, Taipei: one from the Yongzheng period, included in the Illustrated Catalogue of Ch'ing Dynasty Porcelain in the National Palace Museum: K'ang-hsi Ware and Yung-cheng Ware, Tokyo, 1980, pl. 129; and the other from the Qianlong period, illustrated in the Museum's exhibition catalogue Qingdai danseyou ciqi/Special Exhibition of Ch'ing Dynasty Monochrome Porcelains in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1989, cat. no. 88. Another Qianlong example with a guan-type glaze in the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, is published in S.W. Bushell, Oriental Ceramic Art, London, 1981 (1896), col. pl. LXXVII.
The ram is a traditional emblem of good luck, since the Chinese term for ram (or goat), yang, is a homophone of yang, 'sun', and represents the male or positive principle in the yin-yang duality. The Chinese character for ram is also used as a variant for a similar character pronounced xiang, which means happiness. Three rams, san yang, are considered a particularly auspicious symbol, evoking the expression san yang kai tai, the awakening of nature in spring, which signifies good luck and happiness.
The Qianlong Emperor appears to have been particularly fond of the motif of the three rams (or goats), since during his reign it was frequently represented in two- and three-dimensional form; see, for example, a jade and a glass carving included in the exhibition China. The Three Emperors, 1662-1795, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2005-6, cat. nos 298-299. A 'three rams' vase of meiping form with a guan-type glaze, also of Qianlong mark and period, from the Qing court collection and still remaining in the Palace Museum, Beijing, is published in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Monochrome Porcelain, Hong Kong, 1999, pl. 208.
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