A gilt and grisaille-decorated ruby-back 'dragon boat' dish, Yongzheng period (1723-1735)


Lot 96. A gilt and grisaille-decorated ruby-back 'dragon boat' dish, Yongzheng period (1723-1735); 21.2cm (8 3/8in) diam. Sold for £12,500 (€16,321). © Bonhams 2001-2016.

Finely enamelled with a central scene of a large imperial dragon boat containing the Sui emperor Yang and his attendants being tugged along the grand canal by women, followed by a smaller boat with musicians, visible on both banks of the canal are mounted soldiers with lances, all within an urban landscape with city walls, houses and pavilions interspersed with willow trees, surrounded by concentric bands of floral scrolls and diaper patterns on the everted rim. Provenance: a European private collection, acquired between 1960-70, and thence by descent 

NotesEmperor Yang (AD569-618) of the short-lived Sui dynasty (AD581-618), is perhaps best known for having reunited China through military might and completing the extraordinary engineering feat of the Grand Canal. This canal, which still exists to this day, connected the Hai river in the north with the Qiantang river in the south and greatly helped economic growth and prosperity. 

Apart from his military and engineering achievements, Emperor Yang is infamous for his extravagant behaviour. According to some records, when the canal was completed in AD609, Emperor Yang floated 65 miles on the canal in a large, expensive dragon boat pulled by hundreds of his most beautiful palace ladies and followed by a flotilla containing musicians and entertainers. It was said that along the shore, sounds of merriment could be heard for a hundred miles. See Y.Ma and J.Lau, Traditional Chinese Stories: Themes and Variations, Boston, 1986, p.313. See also V.Xiong, Emperor Yang of the Sui Dynasty: His Life, Times, and Legacy, New York, 2012, pp.75-94.