An inscribed 'langyao' red-glazed truncated bottle neck vase, Qing dynasty, Kangxi period, inscription dated to the yiwei year (in accordance with 1775)

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Lot 3648. An inscribed 'Langyao' red-glazed truncated bottle neck vase, Qing dynasty, Kangxi period, inscription dated to the yiwei year (in accordance with 1775)18.1 cm., 7 1/8  inEstimate 1,500,000 — 2,000,000 HKD. Lot sold 1,875,000 HKD. Photo: Sothebys.

stoutly potted, the globular body rising to slanted shoulders surmounted by a columnar neck, applied overall with a deep speckled copper-red glaze draining from the rim in rich crimson and ruby tones to a sumptuous burgundy, neatly trimmed at the foot, the glaze further suffused with a tight network of crazing, the base incised with an imperial poem dated to the yiwei year (in accordance with 1775), followed by the two seals reading lang and run respectively, the mouthrim bound in gilt-bronze.

ProvenanceCollection of M.F. Arbouin, St. Brice, Charente, France.
Sotheby's Hong Kong, 2nd May 2005, lot 525.

ExhibitedInternational Exhibition of Chinese Art, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1935-6, cat. no. 2312 (label).

NotesOutstanding for its rich red glaze that drapes over the subtle shouldered form, this vase is an exceptional example of langyao developed in imitation of Xuande wares during the Kangxi period. Its timeless beauty is evidenced in the imperial poem written by the Qianlong Emperor and inscribed on the base of the vase, which praises the rich colour of sacrificial red wares of the Xuande period.

Dated 1775, the poem inscribed on the base of this vase is recorded in the Qing Gaozong yuzhi shiwen quan ji [Anthology of imperial poems] and can be translated as follows:

Its glaze incandesces 
          like the fiery red sky after the rain.
          Once out of the kiln, 
          it has to return to the flickering flames.
          The world's vermillion 
          simply does not compare,
          All the rubies of the West 
          cannot rival its colour.
          Place flowers in it and they blush in shame,
          It is impossible to capture
          the richness of its glaze in a painting.
          The Records state that 
          sacrificial red wares were 
          first made in the Xuande period,
          Though such wares were first fired 
          during the Song dynasty. 

The same poem is also found on a Kangxi langyao vase of compressed pear shape, in the Qing Court collection and still in Beijing, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Monochrome Porcelain, Hong Kong, 1999, pl. 14, where it notes that the reference to Xuande suggests that the Qianlong Emperor was under the impression that these vases were produced in the Xuande period (see p. 16). A copper-red 'Monk's Cap' ewer, similarly inscribed with a Qianlong poem and dated to 1775, was included in the Special Exhibition of Selected Hsuan-te Imperial Porcelains of the Ming Dynasty, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1998, cat. no. 29.

Copper-red glazes were revived on a grand scale under the Kangxi Emperor after two centuries of neglect. Monochrome copper-red porcelains were perfected during the Yongle and Xuande reigns, but the large number of discarded sherds at the Jingdezhen kiln sites impressively highlights the difficulties experienced by even the highly accomplished imperial potters of that time to achieve satisfactory results. After the Xuande reign, the copper pigment was therefore almost completely abandoned. Also known as sang-de-boeuf (‘oxblood’), langyao was developed under Lang Tingji (1663-1715), supervisor of the imperial kilns at Jingdezhen from 1705-12, and the term is thought to derive from his name. Under his direction the imperial potters attempted to recreate the lost formula of the early Ming period and perfected the creation of comparable deep and even copper-red glazes such as the present. It was also manipulated to produce the delicate mottled glazes of ‘peach-bloom’ wares. 

Related Kangxi langyao vases, with a tall cylindrical neck where the red attractively pulls away to reveal the white rim, include two in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, one of mallet form and with a similar metal-bound rim, but with an apocryphal Xuande reign mark, included in the Museum’s Special Exhibition of Hsuan-te Wares, Taipei, 1980, cat. no. 85, and the other published in Illustrated Catalogue of Ch’ing Dynasty Porcelain in the National Palace Museum. K’ang-hsi Ware and Yung-cheng Ware, vol. 1, Tokyo, 1980, pl. 48; and a bottle vase of compressed globular form, also with a gilt-metal rim, illustrated in John Ayers, The Baur Collection. Chinese Ceramics, vol. 3, Geneva, 1972, pl. A278. 

Sotheby's, Important Chinese Art, Hong Kong, 05 Oct 2016