An extremely fine celadon-glazed 'Three Rams' vase, Seal mark and period of Qianlong (1736-1795)



Lot 1632. An extremely fine celadon-glazed 'Three Rams' vase, Seal mark and period of Qianlong (1736-1795); 32.8 cm., 12 7/8 in. Estimate 9,000,000 — 12,000,000 HKD. Lot Sold 20,260,000 HKD. photo Sotheby's 2009

finely potted, the globular body supported by a flared foot and rising to a thick waisted neck and flared mouth, encircled by two double-raised fillets around the body and another at the base of the neck, and applied with three ram heads at the shoulders, the glaze thinning to reveal their finely detailed features, covered overall with a stunning blue-green celadon glaze, the base inscribed with the six-character seal mark in underglaze-blue. 

Provenance: Sotheby's Hong Kong, 8th October 2006, lot 1014.

Note: Vases of this design appear to have been introduced in the Yongzheng period, but are extremely rare with Yongzheng or Qianlong reign marks. No other vase of this form and this fine translucent glaze appears to be recorded, the comparable examples all bearing thick opaque glazes of Ru or guan type or teadust colour.

A line drawing of this form is included among Yongzheng shapes in Geng Baochang, Ming Qing ciqi jianding, Hong Kong, 1993, p.235, fig.401: 13, where it is called sanxicun ('vase of three beasts of uniform colour'), referring to the kind of animals used in ritual offerings. A Yongzheng as well as a Qianlong example with a Ru type glaze are in the National Palace Museum, Taiwan, the former included in the Illustrated Catalogue of Ch'ing Dynasty Porcelain in the National Palace Museum: K'ang-hsi Ware and Yung-cheng Ware, Tokyo, 1980, pl.129, the latter in the Museum's exhibition catalogue Qingdai danseyou ciqi/Special Exhibition of Ch'ing Dynasty Monochrome Porcelains in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1989, cat. no.88. Another Qianlong example with a guan-type glaze in the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, is published in S.W. Bushell, Oriental Ceramic Art, London, 1981 (1896), col. pl. LXXVII. For a teadust glazed 'three ram' vase of Qianlong mark and period see the piece from the collections of T.Y. Chao and Ira and Nancy Koger, sold three times in these rooms, 1979, 1986 and 1992, and once in our New York rooms, 1990, illustrated in Sotheby's. Thirty Years in Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 2003, pl.157.

The ram is a traditional emblem of good luck, since the Chinese term for ram (or goat), yang, is a homophone of yang, 'sun', and represents the male or positive principle in the yin-yang duality. The Chinese character for ram is also used as a variant for a similar character pronounced xiang, which means happiness. Three rams, san yang, are considered a particularly auspicious symbol, evoking the expression san yang kai tai, the awakening of nature in spring, which signifies good luck and happiness. San yang shen are the three yang spirits in Daoism, the 'original spirit', the 'spirit that knows', and the 'real spirit'.

The Qianlong Emperor appears to have been particularly fond of the motif of the three rams (or goats), since during his reign it was frequently represented in two- and three-dimesional form; see, for example, a jade and a glass carving included in the exhibition China. The Three Emperors, 1662-1795, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2005-6,cat.nos 298 and 299. A 'three ram' vase of meiping form with a guan-type glaze, also of Qianlong mark and period, from the Qing court collection and still remaining in the Palace Museum, Beijing, is published in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Monochrome Porcelain, Hong Kong, 1999, pl.208.

Sotheby's. Fine Chinese Ceramics & Works of Art. 08 Oct 09. Hong Kong