Important Chinese Art

Important Chinese Art

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 283. A superbly carved white jade 'dragon' vase, Qing dynasty, Qianlong period | 清乾隆 白玉雕雲龍戲珠紋雙耳瓶.

Property from the Morgan Foundation Collection

A superbly carved white jade 'dragon' vase, Qing dynasty, Qianlong period | 清乾隆 白玉雕雲龍戲珠紋雙耳瓶

Auction Closed

September 21, 06:54 PM GMT


800,000 - 1,200,000 USD

Lot Details


A superbly carved white jade 'dragon' vase 

Qing dynasty, Qianlong period

清乾隆 白玉雕雲龍戲珠紋雙耳瓶

Height 7⅛ in., 18.1 cm

Private Collection, acquired by 1925. 

Christie's London, 14th May 2012, lot 80.



Exquisitely carved, the present vase is testament to the technical perfection achieved by the imperial workshops during the reign of the Qianlong Emperor. The five-clawed dragons carved on each side, amidst scrolling clouds and enclosed within central medallions, are juxtaposed with the vase’s refined and simple form, subtly alluding to the unquestionable and imperial authority of the Qianlong Emperor.

During the Qing dynasty, especially during the reign of Qianlong, the production of imperial jade carvings in China soared to new heights. Through successful territorial expansion, political stability and soaring economic growth, the Empire acquired an unprecedented amount of wealth and the imperial workshops recruited the best artisans to cater to the increasing demands of the Emperor and the court. In 1759, the 24th year of Qianlong, the Qing Empire's victory over the Dzungar and Muslim rebellions marked a pivotal point in the production of jade carvings. The victory allowed access to the jade-rich territories in Khotan and Yarkant, where the geological setting was extremely favorable for the formation of high-quality nephrite. Khotan jade, renowned for its translucency and extreme hardiness, was highly prized. The Emperor’s passion for jade and the court’s access to unprecedented quantities of the raw material ushered in a new age of jade carving, pushing the craftsmen’s technical and creative capacities to new heights.

An erudite scholar and passionate collector of antiques, the Qianlong Emperor’s love for the past was grounded in his admiration for Chinese history and influenced by Confucian philosophy, which emphasized the study of history in the pursuit of virtue. The Qianlong Emperor actively influenced jade production, criticizing the ‘vulgar’ style popular in the 18th century as excessively ornate, and urged craftsmen to study ancient vessels to incorporate archaic elements into their own creations. The Xiqing gujian [Catalogue of Xiqing antiquities], which was compiled by court artists between 1749 and 1755, comprised line drawings of some 1,500 objects in the imperial collection, and was circulated among the craftsmen who were encouraged to take inspiration from it.

Skillfully adapted to suit the refined taste of the Emperor, the elegant form of this vase draws inspiration from archaic bronze wine vessels, hu, flanked with lug handles to each side. The robust shape of the bronze prototype was transformed into a graceful silhouette, acting as a canvas for the central medallions. The bold, powerful dragon carved in relief fills up the space, whereas the rest of the vase is void of decoration. The result is a vessel that appears modern yet steeped in classical symbolism.

Ferociously portrayed and coiled around the 'Flaming Pearl', the frontal dragon exerts its forceful presence. Able to control the rain and breathe clouds and fire in Chinese mythology, the dragon became associated with imperial power as early as the Han dynasty. From the Ming dynasty onwards, the imagery of a five-clawed dragon became inseparable from the association of imperial might. The fearsome portrayal of the dragon on the present vase is, thus, indicative of the artistic language adopted by the workshop to reinforce Qianlong’s rule as imperial, powerful, legitimate and ubiquitous.

Compare a closely related spinach-green jade vase and cover, in the National Palace Museum, Taipei (accession no. 故玉002725N000000000). Similarly carved with a five-claw dragon amidst the clouds in a central medallion, but with mythical beast handles suspending loose rings, the vase is inscribed with a six-character Daqing Qianlong fanggu mark to the base. For other closely related examples, see three covered vases, all with handles suspending loose rings, one formerly in the Collection of Hebert R. Bishop, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (accession nos 02.18.606a, b); another, previously in the Vint Family Collection, exhibited in International Exhibition of Chinese Art, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1935, cat no. 2839, sold at Christie’s New York, 3th December 2008, lot 2606; the third, sold at Christie's London, 29th June 1959, lot 53. See one, lacking a cover, included in the 75th Anniversary Exhibition of Post-Archaic Chinese Jades from Private Collections, S. Marchant & Son, London, 2000, cat. no. 14. Lastly, a covered example of similar decoration, but with loose rings suspending from elephant-head handles, was sold at Christie’s New York, 2nd December 1989, lot 250.






參考一相類乾隆碧玉龍紋蓋瓶,藏台北國立故宮博物院 (館藏編號:故玉002725N000000000),器身亦雕有騰雲五爪龍紋,獸首活環,底部刻「大清乾隆仿古」六字款。另見其他近例有三,均為帶耳活環蓋瓶。其一為畢紹普舊藏,現藏於紐約大都會藝術博物館 (館藏編號:02.18.606a, b);其二為Vint家族舊藏之御製白玉穿花八吉祥盤龍紋獸耳活環蓋瓶,展於《中國藝術國際展覽會》,皇家藝術學院,倫敦,1935年,圖編2839,並售於香港佳士得2008年12月3日,編號2606;其三則於倫敦佳士得成交,1959年6月29日,編號53。另有一無蓋例,展於《75th Anniversary Exhibition of Post-Archaic Chinese Jades from Private Collections》,馬錢特,倫敦,2000年,圖編14。亦可對比一例,紋飾相類,象耳活環,售於紐約佳士得1989年12月2日,編號250。