The porcelain production of the Jingdezhen imperial kilns for the Yongzheng Emperor is characterized by a search for inspiration from the past and at the same time a remodelling of ancient styles into contemporary designs. A comparison of the present piece with the Chenghua doucai stem cup in this collection, lot 28, clearly shows the changes from the Ming to the Qing dynasty, with the piece becoming slightly larger, the cup more flared and the stem being accentuated by two ribs rather than one, albeit less prominent.
The formal doucai designs of the Chenghua period may well have been too severe for the Yongzheng Emperor, who seems to have favoured auspicious nature scenes. His notorious anxiety, caused probably by irregularities connected with his ascension to the throne, brought about a particular attachment to propitious signs and images of any kind. In the case of the present piece the porcelain painters answered the Emperor's penchant by adding shou ('long life') characters on the stem of the cup, which the Ming dynasty was generally left plain, to an already auspicious motif. The meaning of this striking design of a bright red morning sun rising from among rainbow-coloured clouds is captured in auspicious mottos such as xuri gaosheng ('may you rise as high as the morning sun').
This design may have been inspired by a Kangxi motif of a red sun encompassed by waves under red clouds, that appears painted in cobalt blue under a celadon glaze and enhanced with iron-red enamel, for example, on a bowl in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated 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 1, pl. 22 (fig. 0). Billowing multicoloured clouds were in the Yongzheng period also used on their own to decorate vases and water pots; see the vase sold in these rooms, 8th April 2010, lot 1862; and water pots in The Tsui Museum of Art, Hong Kong, 1991, pl. 112.
The companion stem cup, sold together with the present piece at Sotheby's London in 1974, later in the collection of Roger Lam, and in the Art Gallery, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, was sold again in these rooms 23rd October 2005, lot 461, and 9th October 2007, lot 1613. Another pair of stem cups of this rare pattern is in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago (accession nos. 1941.687 A and B, unpublished).
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