The Qianlong Emperor’s generous patronage and personal taste, which tended towards extravagant and showy pieces, greatly influenced the making of technically challenging and artistically complex display pieces. The production of large vessels, which are considerably heavy, required the highest level of technical skill only to be found amongst potters working in the imperial kilns at Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province, under the instructions of China’s preeminent Superintendent, Tang Ying. Imperial records reveal that the Qianlong Emperor habitually asked Tang Ying to design special pieces for him, thus opening avenues for such fine wares to be created.
The decoration on this vase is meticulously executed in the finest cobalt blue. The composition of lotus blooms and foliate scrolls is perfectly balanced through a thorough understanding of the importance of spacing in successfully creating a rich yet not overcrowded design. Such curling lines are offset by the bold geometric nature of the petal and leaf borders, all of which are hemmed in with crashing wave bands around the foot and mouth rim – ingeniously selected as they mirror the curvilinear and geometric forms of the overall design.
Both the shape and decoration of the vessel take their inspiration from early fifteenth century blue and white porcelain that formed part of the imperial collection. The flat circular form has its roots in archaic bronzes which were adapted into porcelain and painted with a luxurious lotus design during the Ming dynasty. In Qinggong neiwufu zaobanchu dang’an, Jiangxi shao ciqi chu [Archival records from the Qing imperial household department workshop, ceramics production in Jiangxi], it is mentioned that in the third year of the Qianlong period (corresponding to 1738), a number of large imperial Xuande blue and white moonflasks was reproduced for decoration (see Zhang Rong (comp.), Yangxindian Zaobanchu shiliao jilan [Reader of historical material on the Workshops in the Hall of Mental Cultivation], vol. 2: Qianlong chao [Qianlong period], Beijing, 2012, pp. 65-68). For a Xuande lotus scroll decorated moonflask of this size, but standing on a very short foot and without handles, see one in the Qing court collection and still in Beijing, published in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Blue and White Porcelain with Underglazed Red (I), Hong Kong, 2008, no. 98. The reference to these early wares is further highlighted on the present piece in the deliberate ‘heaping and piling’ of the cobalt to imitate their predecessor’s mottled effect.
A closely related moonflask was sold in our New York rooms, 20th September 2000, lot 124, and again in these rooms, 2nd May 2005, lot 650; another was sold in these rooms, 29th November 1978, lot 231; a third was sold at Christie’s London, 12th December 1977, lot 164; and another was sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 19th January 1988, lot 319. Moonflasks of this type are also known with one central bloom surrounded by eight smaller variations of the lotus in a grid composition and less stylised leaves encircling the neck; see one illustrated in Chinese Porcelain. The S.C. Ko Tianminlou Collection, Hong Kong, 1987, pl. 65; another sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 1st October 1992, lot 958; and a third sold in these rooms, 24th May 1985, lot 549.
Moonflasks of this dragon-handled form and lotus scroll decoration were also produced with a proportionately smaller neck decorated with a lotus scroll; see a larger example with a flared foot, sold at Christie’s New York, 19th March 2008, lot 606; and a slightly smaller moonflask, but with a shorter foot encircled by three lines and the mouth rim with a lingzhi scroll, sold in these rooms, 30th April 1996, lot 431. For the Yongzheng inspiration to these vases, see one from the collection of Dr Chang Hsi-Hai, sold in our New York rooms, 23rd/24th May 1974, lot 426, and again in these rooms, 16th May 1977, lot 93.
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