Monochrome | Important Chinese Art

Monochrome | Important Chinese Art

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 253. A superbly carved and extremely rare celadon jade 'dragon' foliate cup, Song dynasty  | 宋 青白玉花式龍耳盃.

A superbly carved and extremely rare celadon jade 'dragon' foliate cup, Song dynasty | 宋 青白玉花式龍耳盃

Auction Closed

November 2, 04:07 PM GMT


100,000 - 150,000 GBP

Lot Details


A superbly carved and extremely rare celadon jade 'dragon' foliate cup

Song dynasty

宋 青白玉花式龍耳盃

the base incised with two characters in seal script reading Xuanhe

Length 14.5 cm, 5¾ in.

Elongated silver and gold vessels with foliate lobes, taking inspiration from the form of bowls imported from Central Asia and Iran, first became popular in China during the Tang dynasty (618-907). Highly tactile and beautifully finished, they would have been a pleasure to handle and drink from. For a Tang dynasty jade example in the British Museum, London, similar to those found in the hoard at Hejiacun village, see Jessica Rawson, Chinese Jade from the Neolithic to the Qing, London, 1994, pl. 29:1, where she argues that bowls of this quality and rarity would probably have been made for the use of high ranking members of the imperial family.

With its delicate construction, rounded form and small flared foot, the cup is related to a Xixia dynasty (1038-1127) gold bowl from Linhe city, Mongolia, illustrated in James C. Y. Watt, The World of Khubilai Khan: Chinese Art in the Yuan Dynasty, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2010, p. 287, fig. 629. Compare also the rubbing of a stone pillar from the Yongzhao Mausoleum, c. 1063, illustrated in Bei Song Huangling [Imperial mausoleums of the Northern Song dynasty], Zhengzhou, 1997, p. 158, fig. 137.

The dynamic depiction of the three-clawed dragon on the current cup, intricately articulated in low relief, is closely related to the dragon design on a set of five plaques from the Zhenzong reign (r. 997-1022) of the Northern Song dynasty (960-1127), a century prior to the Xuanhe era, illustrated in Wen Fong and James Watt, Possessing the Past: Treasures from the National Palace Museum, Taipei, New York, 1996, pl. 17. See also a jade cup with similar openwork dragon handles from the Florence and Herbert Irving collection, illustrated in The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Summer 1997, p. 21. 

For a jade foliate cup of a later period, following the Song tradition, see the begonia-shaped cup with dragon handles from the Qing court collection, preserved in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, included in the museum's exhibition Through the Prism of the Past: Antiquarian Trends in Chinese Art of the 16th to 18th Century, 2003, cat. no. I-56. Attributed to the 16th century, it is of similar size and decoration to the current cup, but is of less delicate construction, and the dragons are articulated in deeper layers of relief, characteristic of late Ming examples.

Works of art from later periods bearing apocryphal Xuanhe marks are frequently recorded, especially in rhinoceros horn, but this is one of the rare instances where the mark matches the period. See also a Northern Song dynasty celadon bowl incised with a Xuanhe mark on the base, illustrated in Law Yu, Lee Kong Chian Art Museum: collection of Chinese ceramics, bronze, archaic jade, painting & calligraphy in the light of recent archaeological discoveries, Singapore, 1990, fig. 85.

The Xuanhe mark is of the Northern Song emperor, Huizong (r. 1082-1135), whose love of art was reflected in his renowned collection of ceramics and antiquities, and during his reign the quality of ceramic production, including Jun ware and the creation of Ru ware, improved dramatically. His collection of ancient bronzes and jades was published in a catalogue commissioned by the emperor, Xuanhe bo gu tulu [Xuanhe illustrated collection of antiquities], which also provided inspiration for ceramicists in later generations.