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A FINE AND RARE BLUE AND WHITE `DRAGON' MOONFLASK, SEAL MARK AND PERIOD OF QIANLONG
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A FINE AND RARE BLUE AND WHITE `DRAGON' MOONFLASK\nSEAL MARK AND PERIOD OF QIANLONG, The broad voluptious body set on a short splayed oval foot, the trumpet shaped neck set with a pair of pierced stylised archaic qilong handles, crisply carved with c-scroll motifs, richly painted in deep tones of cobalt blue with a scaly sinuous five-clawed dragon to either side, contesting a centralised flaming pearl, amongst cloud scrolls above a crashing wave border, the neck, foot and sides painted with ten stylised bats\n50cm., 19 3/4 in.
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notes

This magnificent 'Dragon' moonflask appears to be the only recorded example of a moonflask of this type decorated in blue-and-white. It would have been highly prized by the Qianlong emperor who had a penchant for technically innovative and artistically challenging pieces. The Qianlong emperor is known to have commissioned artists working in the Imperial kilns at Jingdezhen to make pieces that were highly challenging and unconventional. He often placed more emphasis on the showier aspects of production and on the virtuosity of craftsmanship. During his reign the refinement of the material and craftsmanship allowed potters to become highly ambitious in their repertoire. The making of this flask required considerable expertise from the potter who borrowed extensively from archaic styles while creating a piece that was new and contemporary. Reference to archaic forms would have also been much appreciated by the emperor who was a great connoisseur and a keen collector of archaic pieces.

The form of this vessel is an adaptation of much earlier pilgrim bottles of the Tang dynasty made of leather. During the Tang dynasty (618-907) pilgrim bottles, which themselves borrowed the form from archaic bronzes, became the inspiration for ceramic replicas which were used to contain wine. Qing blue-and-white moonflasks were largely derived from the early Ming prototypes, such as the Xuande flask painted with a three-clawed dragon, illustrated in Gugong Bowuyuan cang Ming chu qinghua ci, vol. 1, Beijing, 2002, pl. 89 (Illustration 1).

The painting of the magnificent five-clawed dragon, rendered with a ferocious expression with gaping jaws revealing sharp fangs, bulbous eyes and flaring nostrils, is meticulously detailed and naturalistic. The dragon's scaly body is depicted in the moment of leaping above turbulent crashing waves in pursuit of the flaming pearl amongst the milliard swirling clouds and flames. The five-clawed dragon symbolized the Emperor and was used on imperial pieces, especially textiles. An Imperial Court robe (jifu), forming part of the wardrobe of the Qing Imperial family and worn by the Qianlong emperor on his birthday celebrations, richly embroidered with tens of thousands of small pearls and gold thread with a similar front-facing five-clawed dragon chasing flaming pearls, was sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 10th April 2006, lot 1540 (Illustration 2).

The present moonflask is also impressive for its brilliant deep blue glaze, a reflection of the very high level of technical achievement by the potter. Although no other blue-and-white moonflask of this design in this impressive large size and clear blue glaze is published, a smaller (h.30 cm) flask of very similar decoration is illustrated in Qingdai ciqi jianding, Shanghai, 1994, pl. 159 (Illustration 3); and another (h.30 cm) was sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 13th November 1987, lot 529.

This flask may have been the inspiration for 'Dragon' moonflasks of this form and impressive size in the doucai colour scheme, where the same design is outlined in underglaze-blue with overglaze enamel washes; for example see one sold in our New York rooms, 8th November 1980, lot 218, and again twice at Christie's New York, 22nd March 1999, lot 317, and 21st September 2004, lot 331. Another closely related doucai flask of similar form, size and painting, from the Qing Court collection and still in Beijing, was included in the exhibition China. Three Emperors, the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2006, cat.no. 217. (Illustration 4) Although the motif on the Palace Museum flask is closely related to the present example, the main difference is that the Palace flask includes a small green dragon emerging from the sea and a group of rocks have replaced the whirlpool depicted in the sea below the dragon.

A blue-and-white moonflask of this form and size, in the Matsuoka Museum of Art, Tokyo, and included in Sekai toji zenshu, vol. 15, Tokyo, 1983, pl. 152 (Illustration 5), is painted in a very similar fashion with the only difference is that the dragon is depicted facing sideways and the handles, moulded in the form of kui dragons, are curled in a different manner.

Further examples of large Qianlong moonflasks (h. 45 cm) can be found painted with the 'Dragon and Phoenix' design in circular panel; see a pair, one sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 2nd May 2005, lot 510, and the other  23rd October 2005, lot 212. Compare also a smaller blue-and-white Qianlong moonflask of this type (h. 43 cm) decorated with a large full-faced five-clawed dragon in similar circular panel, from the Qing Court collection, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Blue and White Porcelain with Underglazed red (III), Shanghai, 2000, pl. 132.

dimensions

50cm., 19 3/4 in.


*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.

*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.


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