the square body with chamfered corners well-painted with a continuous leafy scroll of morning glory with one bloom on each side, the splayed foot encircled by a band of lappets enclosing formal floral motifs, all beneath a wide cylindrical neck decorated with a band of similar upright lappets with key-fret and pendant trefoil borders below the thick-lipped rim, the neck further flanked by a pair of curved handles issuing from the mouths of moulded dragon heads with short horns, bulging eyes and prominent fangs, the base inscribed with a six-character reign mark within a double ring
This early Ming shape appears to have been a particular favourite of the Yongzheng Emperor, although the Ming prototypes mostly differ in design, with morning glories covering the whole vessel. Two extant handscrolls of the Yongzheng period, dated in accordance with 1728 and 1729, respectively, depicting works of art from the imperial collection include two such vases each, all four shown on different wooden stands; see Regina Krahl, 'Art in the Yongzheng Period: Legacy of an Eccentric Art Lover', Orientations, November/December 2005, pp 65 and 66. A veritable 'portrait' of yet another such vase holding an auspicious branch of peony with twin blooms was executed by the court painter Giuseppe Castiglione; see Wang Yaoting, Xin guan jie. Lang Shining yu Qing gong xiyang feng/New Visions at the Ch'ing Court. Giuseppe Castiglione and Western-Style Trends, Taipei, 2007, pl. 16 (fig. 0). Although the painting is not dated, its subject matter and message are very close to another Castiglione painting of a vase with auspicious plants, which the artist presented to the Yongzheng Emperor upon his accession to the throne in 1723.
The complex geometric shape, which does not come naturally to a potter, was clearly influenced by metal prototypes, probably of Middle Eastern origin, where facetted shapes are not uncommon. Basil Gray, 'The Influence of Near Eastern Metalwork on Chinese Ceramics', Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, vol. 18, 1940-41, pl. 6c and d, compares a porcelain vase of this form to an earlier Persian bronze rose-water sprinkler in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, which is illustrated and discussed also in Assadullah Souren Melikian-Chirvani, Islamic Metalwork from the Iranian World. 8th – 18th Centuries, London, 1982, pl. 5.
A very similar vase of Yongzheng mark and period from the Qing court collection in the Palace Museum, Beijing, is illustrated in Geng Baochang, ed., Gugong Bowuyuan cang Ming chu qinghua ci [Early Ming blue-and-white porcelain in the Palace Museum], Beijing, 2002, vol. 2, pl. 186, together with a prototype of Xuande mark and period, vol. 1, pl. 83; another one in Geng Baochang, ed., Gugong Bowuyuan cang Qingdai yuyao ciqi [Porcelains from the Qing dynasty imperial kilns in the Palace Museum collection], Beijing, 2005, vol. 1, part 2, pl. 25. A similar vase was also sold in these rooms, 31st October 2004, lot 181; and a Yongzheng vase of this pattern over-decorated in yellow and green enamel is in the Baur Collection, Geneva, illustrated in John Ayers, Chinese Ceramics in the Baur Collection, Geneva, 1999, vol. 2, pl. 212.
This design was in the Yongzheng period more common in a slightly different version, with scrolls of morning glory also covering the blank areas of the neck; compare examples of this design in the Nanjing Museum, published in Xu Huping, ed., Zhongguo Qingdai guanyao ciqi/The Official Kiln Porcelain of the Chinese Qing Dynasty, Shanghai, 2003, p. 135; in the National Palace Museum, Taiwan, included in the exhibition Ming Xuande ciqi tezhan mulu/Catalogue of a Special Exhibition of Hsuan-te Period Porcelain, Taipei, 1980, cat. no. 5, together with a Xuande example and a later copy decorated with morning glory scrolls only, cat. nos. 6 and 7.
The Shanghai Museum also owns a Qianlong version of this form, with scrolls of morning glory fully covering the vessel, illustrated in Lu Minghua, Shanghai Bowuguan zangpin yanjiu daxi/Studies of the Shanghai Museum Collections : A Series of Monographs. Mingdai guanyao ciqi [Ming imperial porcelain], Shanghai, 2007, pl. 5-20.
Four vases of this form, from the Sir Percival David Collection are in the British Museum: for one of Xuande mark and period see the Illustrated Catalogue of Underglaze Blue and Copper Red Decorated Porcelains in the Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, rev. ed. London, 2004, no. A 633; for a very similar Qing copy with a spurious Xuande mark, ibid., no. 609; for a similar unmarked vase with yellow enamel, see Illustrated Catalogue of Ming and Ming Style Polychrome Wares in the Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, rev. ed., London, 2006, no. 781; and a later monochrome greenish-glazed piece bears inventory no. A 415.
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