Search for over 80 million sold items in our price database

An exceptionally fine tang-style ‘double-dragon’ celadon-glazed amphora

About the item

AN EXCEPTIONALLY FINE TANG-STYLE ‘DOUBLE-DRAGON’ CELADON-GLAZED AMPHORA\n\nYONGZHENG SIX-CHARACTER SEAL MARK IN UNDERGLAZE BLUE AND OF THE PERIOD (1723-1735)\n\nThe baluster body is moulded with three sets of double bowstring bands, the uppermost band on the shoulder is overlaid with six tear-drop shaped appliqués with further two below each of the double-strap handles. The neck with a further three double-bowstring bands in imitation of bamboo. The gracefully arched handles are moulded with bosses rising to the well-defined dragon-head terminals which grasp the rim of the cup-shaped mouth in their powerful jaws. The vase is covered overall with an even glaze of soft blue green tone thinning on the extremities and pooling in the recesses.\n\n20 3/8 in. (51.8 cm.) high, box


This magnificent and extremely rare vase was once in the collection of Maruja Baldwin (1920-1997), a California businesswoman, heiress and philanthropist. Her husband Baldwin M. Baldwin (d. 1970) was a leading Southern California art collector and international yachtsman whose corporation developed the Baldwin Hills Village in Los Angeles. He was also the grandson of E. J. (Lucky) Baldwin (1828-1909), who was among the earliest and most prominent property developers and businessmen in California. A number of places in Southern California are named after him including the Baldwin Hills mountain range and the City of Baldwin Park in Los Angeles County.


An extremely rare Yongzheng celadon-glazed amphora

Rosemary Scott, International Academic Director Asian Art

This extremely rare vase is a superb combination of an archaistic form from the Tang dynasty, a glaze inspired by the Song dynasty, and the technical and artistic genius found at the imperial kilns in the Yongzheng reign. It is also a particularly fascinating example of the way that the emperor’s personal interests influenced the objects made for his court. The Yongzheng Emperor, like his father the Kangxi Emperor and his son the Qianlong Emperor, was a great admirer of antiques, and all three of these great Qing emperors commissioned items for their courts made in antique styles. These archaistic pieces were made in many media, but those in bronze and ceramic were perhaps the most artistically successful. Those made in ceramic were particularly varied - some adapting archaic decoration, some adopting antique forms, and others combining elements of the two. The current Yongzheng vase has faithfully copied the form of an amphora from the Tang dynasty (AD 618-907), while its glaze is a refined version of a Longquan celadon glaze from the Southern Song dynasty (AD 1127-1278). It is a perfect example of the guya ‘antique elegance’ for which such porcelains of the Yongzheng reign were famed. Amphorae with short necks, small handles at the widest part of the body, and pointed bases were made early in China’s ceramic history at Yangshao Neolithic sites such as Banpo (5th-4th millennium BC) – as illustrated in The Genius of China, London, 1973, p. 49, no. 19. An amphora of this Banpo type was sold by Christie’s New York 26 March 2003, lot 176 (fig. 1). Versions of the amphora form were also made in the Zhou and Han dynasties – including the Han Lifan Sichuan burnished black pottery amphorae, such as the example sold by Christie’s New York 18 September 2003, lot 191 (fig. 2). However, the inspiration for the form of the current amphora probably entered China from the west. The term amphora refers to vessels with two carrying handles, one on either side. Although the name amphora comes from Latin, that in turn comes from a Greek word amphoreus, short for amphiphoreus, formed by a combination of a term meaning ‘on both sides’ and one meaning ‘to carry’ – a reference to the handles on either side of the containers. Such vessels were used throughout the Graeco-

Roman world to store or contain, oil, wine, water, fruit and grain. Some had pointed bases and some had a disk-shaped foot. The Greeks gave beautifully decorated examples as prizes to the victors at Panathenaic games, while simple examples were very popular practical vessels.

In Tang dynasty China amphorae were made with strong profiles - wide shoulders tapering to a relatively narrow foot and flat base. The necks were narrow and quite long – frequently with rings around them reminiscent of the joints on bamboo, while the mouths were dished and the handles terminated in the form of dragons’ heads, apparently biting the mouth of the vessel on either side. Most vessels have two handles, but rare examples, such as the one in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, had three. The Tang vessels were made either with monochrome glazes, most frequently white, but sometimes green or amber, or were decorated in the sancai glaze palette. An example of the latter type from the collection of the Tokyo National Museum is illustrated in Special Exhibition - Chinese Ceramics, Tokyo, 1994, p. 75, no. 106. Two white-glazed amphorae in the collection of the Palace Museum Beijing are illustrated in Porcelain of the Jin and Tang Dynasties, The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, vol. 31, Hong Kong, 1996, pp. 171-173, nos. 158 and 159 (fig. 3). The first of these has no decoration on the neck or body, while the second has lines around the neck and sprig-moulded florets on both the neck and the shoulder. A further Tang dynasty white-glazed amphora in a private collection (illustrated by Masahiko Sato in Chinese Ceramics: A Short History, New York/Tokyo, 1981, p. 53, fig. 77) is also close in form to the current Yongzheng vessel, having low relief rings around the neck and sprig-moulded palmette appliqués on the shoulder – although it only has two appliqués on each side, rather than the three per side on the Yongzheng vessels. The current vase demonstrates just how faithfully the 18th century porcelain forms sometimes copied that of the original vessels. However, there are two interesting refinements. While some of the Tang dynasty amphorae have neck rings, simulating bamboo, very few of them have the more naturalistic raised ring with encircling incised line seen on the 18th century vessels (fig. 6). This version of the ‘bamboo’ neck came to prominence on fine 10th century, Northern Song dynasty Ding wares such as those excavated from the foundations of the Jingzhongyuan Temple pagoda, which was dedicated in AD 995 (figs. 4 and 5) illustrated in Ding Kiln of China, Beijing, 2012, pls. 114 and 90.

The other interesting refinement is in the form of the ‘palmette’ sprig-moulded appliqués on the shoulders of the Yongzheng vessels (fig. 10). Such palmettes can be seen amongst the sprigmoulded elements applied to certain green-glazed vessels in the Sui dynasty, such as the Sassanian-metalwork inspired phoenixhead ewer offered by Christie’s Hong Kong 30 October 1995, lot 672A (fig. 7). These palmette appliqués reached a peak of popularity in the Tang dynasty, and those on the current vessel take their inspiration from palmette appliqués found not only on Tang dynasty vessels, such as a sancai jar in the Tokyo National Museum (illustrated by M. Sato and G. Hasebe in Sekai Toji Zenshu 11 Sui Tang, Tokyo, 1976, p. 141, no. 123) and the example from the Erwin Harris Collection, sold by Christie’s New York, 16 March 2017, lot 877 (fig. 8), but also suspended from the trappings of some of the finer Tang sancai horses, such as that in the Kyoto National Museum (illustrated ibid., p. 95, no. 73) and the example being offered by Christie’s Hong Kong this season, lot 3111 (fig. 9). The Tang vessels and horses had very thin glazes, through which the shape of the sprig-moulded palmette could be clearly seen. However, the pale celadon glaze of the Yongzheng amphorae is much thicker and translucent, and the form of the palmette on these 18th century vessels has been made more linear, so that it could more clearly be seen beneath the richer glaze.

In the 18th century reigns of the Yongzheng and Qianlong Emperors amphorae of this form were made in porcelain at the imperial Jingdezhen kilns and were either given monochrome glazes or were decorated in underglaze cobalt blue. A Yongzheng amphora of the same form and glaze colour as the current vessel is in the collection of the Shenyang Palace, and is illustrated in The Prime Cultural Relics Collected by Shenyang Imperial Palace Museum – The Chinaware volume, Second Part, Shenyang, 2008, pp. 62-3, no. 5 (H: 52 cm.). A further celadon-glazed Yongzheng amphora of the same shape, from the Elizabeth Severance Prentiss Collection, is in the Cleveland Museum of Art, (H: 52.1 cm.), accession number 1944-190 (fig. 11). A Yongzheng amphora with celadon glaze was also sold by Christie’s London 10 June, 1991, lot 162, now in The Chen Art Gallery, California (H: 51.7 cm.) (fig. 12).

A Yongzheng amphora of this form with monochrome skyblue glaze is in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing (illustrated in Zhongguo wenwu jinghua daquan - taoci juan, Taipei, 1993, p. 433, no. 906, (H: 52.5 cm.) (fig. 13). A Yongzheng amphora of this form with teadust glaze is illustrated by John Ayers in Chinese Ceramics in the Koger Collection, London, 1985, now in The Chen Art Gallery, California (fig. 14), and another teadust-glazed Yongzheng amphora from the Idemitsu collection is illustrated in Chinese Ceramics in the Idemitsu Collection, 1987, no. 962. An amphora of this form with Guan-type glaze from the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore was illustrated by S.W. Bushell in Oriental Ceramic Art, New York, 1980, p. 82, fig. 116.

A somewhat smaller (H: 32.3 cm.) Yongzheng amphora of the same shape, but decorated in underglaze cobalt blue is in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing, and is illustrated in

Blue and White Porcelain with Underglaze Red (III), The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, vol. 36, Hong Kong, 2000, p. 108, no. 94. A larger Yongzheng blue and white amphora of the same shape as the current vessel, and of similar size (H: 52.3 cm.) is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (illustrated by Rose Kerr in Chinese Ceramics - Porcelain of the Qing Dynasty 1644-1911, London, 1986, p. 30, no. 13). A similarly-shaped amphora, decorated in underglaze blue, from the Ohmer Collection in the Roemer Museum, Hildensheim, Germany is illustrated by U. Wiesner in Chinesisches Porzellan, Mainz am Rhein, 1981, no. 51. A smaller (H: 32.4 cm.) Qianlong amphora of this form decorated in underglaze blue was sold by Christie’s Hong Kong 27 May, 2009 Lot 1830 (fig. 15). Qianlong examples of this form are rare and were probably only made in the early years of the reign, when, as will be discussed below, Tang Ying was still responsible for production at the imperial kilns.

The delicate celadon glaze on the current amphora has its origins in fine high-fired mise celadons of the Tang dynasty, from the Yue kilns in Zhejiang province, which no doubt inspired the glazes of the Northern Song dynasty celadons made at the Yaozhou kilns in Shaanxi province, and the imperial Ru wares made in Henan province, as well as the Southern Song dynasty celadons of the Longquan kilns in Zhejiang province. It is the finest glazes of the Southern Song Longquan kilns that the glaze on the current vase most closely resembles, and thus the archaistic interest on this vessel is twofold– the form being inspired by the Tang dynasty and the glaze paying homage to the Southern Song. However, credit for the beauty of the current glaze must ultimately go to the potters at the Qing imperial kilns, since it was the result of painstaking research, and extensive experimentation.

Indeed, in the 18th century the Jingdezhen imperial kilns devoted considerable effort to the perfection of celadon glazes which could be applied to a white porcelain body. Although celadon-type glazes, coloured with small quantities of iron, were applied to porcelain bodies at the Jingdezhen imperial kilns in the early Ming period, it was the Kangxi potters who eventually perfected a particularly delicate version of this glaze to be applied over the pure white (low iron) porcelain. The subtle celadon glaze was coloured using only about half the amount of iron found, for instance, in typical Longquan celadon glazes of the Southern Song. The new celadon glaze for porcelain was further modified in the Yongzheng period to produce even more finely textured and slightly bluer pale celadon glazes. This range of delicate Qing dynasty celadon glazes has been much admired by Chinese connoisseurs, and individual glazes have been given names such as douqing (bean green) and dongqing (eastern green) in the Kangxi reign, dongqing (winter green) and fenqing (soft/powder green) in the Yongzheng reign.

It is significant that the Yongzheng Emperor took considerable interest in the porcelains made for his court, and that he appears to have had a particular interest in monochrome glazes. Certainly, the range of monochrome glazes produced at Jingdezhen did expand during his reign period. Quite a variety of monochrome glazes were inherited from the Ming dynasty and others were initiated during Kangxi’s reign, but it is clear that a significant number were developed in response to the Yongzheng Emperor’s desire for new colours. A number of recorded events attest to the Yongzheng Emperor’s fascination with monochromes. Palace records for the 27th day of the 12th month of the 10th year of Yongzheng’s reign (1733) note an order from the emperor to Nian Xiyao (d. 1738), who had been appointed a minister of the Imperial Household in 1726, and between 1726 and 1735 he was in charge of the manufacture of porcelain at Jingdezhen as well as having the post of Superintendent of customs at Huai’an in Jiangsu province. The emperor’s order required Nian Xiyao ‘to send 12 chrysanthemum-shaped dishes in different colours for the inspection of the permanent guardian of the treasury and chief eunuch Samuha’. The decree goes on to mention ‘forty dishes in each colour to be fired in accordance with the samples’. Interestingly more than 12 colours in this form are known in the palace collections.

A great deal of research and development was undertaken under the kiln superintendents Nian Xiyao and Tang Ying (AD 1682-1756), at the behest of the Yongzheng emperor, and this included the development of a huge range of new monochrome colours, as well as enamels. It is probable that many of the new glaze colours were developed under the auspices of the most famous of all the supervisors of the Imperial kilns – Tang Ying. In the first year of the Yongzheng reign (1723) Tang Ying was appointed Vice-Director of the Imperial Household Department at court before being sent to Jingdezhen in 1726, initially working as resident assistant to Nian Xiyao, but soon assuming overall responsibility for production at the Imperial kilns – responsibility which he retained until the year of his death in 1756. Tang Ying became a knowledgeable ceramicist in his own right, and also had literary talent. His surviving writings provide much useful information about production at Jingdezhen. In 1735 Tang wrote Taocheng jishi beiji (Commemorative Stele on Ceramic Production). This lists some fifty-seven different types of wares, and almost forty different glazes. Amongst these are some of the glazes inspired by Song dynasty ceramics, for which Tang Ying became well-known.

It is particularly relevant in relation to the current amphora that amongst the glazes listed in Tang Ying’s Taocheng jishi beiji are two which specifically copied Longquan glazes – one of pale tone and one of deeper colour. This is almost certainly a reference to the glaze on the current amphora. Interestingly the other three glazes colours found on Yongzheng amphorae of similar form to the current vessel can also be found on Tang Ying’s list of glazes. It is probable that the ‘sky-blue’amphora in the collection of the Palace Museum Beijing bears a glaze equivalent to that listed by Tang Ying as a copy of a Ru glaze without crackles on a ‘copper’ body, which was specifically copied from a Song dynasty bowl used to wash the face. The Guan-type glaze on the amphora from the Walters Collection also appears to be listed by Tang Ying, and he notes that the variants of this glaze were copied from Song dynasty examples from the palace. The ‘teadust’ glazes on the amphorae of the same shape in the Koger and Idemitsu collections are likely to be amongst those listed by Tang Ying under ‘eel-skin’, ‘snake-skin green’, and ‘speckled yellow’.

It is probable, therefore, that this exquisite Yongzheng amphora was made under the auspices of Tang Ying, and was therefore created for one of the great Qing emperors, known for his refined tastes and exacting standards, by the most talented and revered of all the supervisors of the imperial kilns.





20 3/8 in. (51.8 cm.) high, box


Christie’s 20 Years in Hong Kong 1986-2006: Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art Highlights, Hong Kong, 2006, p. 170

The Alan Chuang Collection of Chinese Porcelain, Hong Kong, 2009, pl. 70

Thirty Years in Asia 1986-2016, Christie’s Hong Kong, 2016, p. 132




Collection of Maruja Baldwin (1920-1997)

Sold at Christie’s New York, 22 March 1999, lot 331

A California private collection, 1999-2004

Sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 1 November 2004, lot 872

The Alan Chuang Collection, Hong Kong

*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.