A magnificent and very rare underglaze-blue facetted moonflask, Yongzheng six-character sealmark and of the period (1723-1735)

Lot 3051. A magnificent and very rare underglaze-blue facetted moonflask, Yongzheng six-character sealmark and of the period (1723-1735). Estimate HKD 10,000,000 - HKD 15,000,000 (USD 1,293,462 - USD 1,940,193). Price Realised HKD 79,060,000 (USD 10,222,482). © Christie's Images Ltd 2010.

Of flattened circular form with octagonal sides, superbly painted and detailed to one side of the bulbous body with a central roundel enclosing a pair of quails standing on a grassy mound amidst stalks of millet and branches of aster emerging from the ground, the reverse with two geese, one in flight, the other standing gazing upwards among reeds and branches of hibiscus, all framed within a border of formalised chrysanthemum sprays, the facetted sides similarly decorated with a vertical composite floral scroll band interrupted at the shoulder by a pair of large openwork scroll handles joining the cylindrical neck further decorated with chrysanthemum scroll beneath a wide key-fret band - 19 in. (48.5 cm.) high 

ProvenanceA private English family collection, originally acquired in East Anglia, England circa 1900 

NotesLarge sized vases from the Yongzheng period are exceedingly rare particularly one potted of this unusual eight facetted form. The form itself does not appear to have a precedence among early blue and white moonflasks of the Ming dynasty and its uniqueness is among the most innovative of Qing period ceramics. Its large, bulbous shape would have been difficult to control during the firing process and this would probably explain its scarcity as the present vase appears to be the only known example in private collections. The only other vase of this design and shape is in the National Palace Museum, illustrated in the Catalog of the Special Exhibition of K'ang-HSI, Yung-Cheng and Ch'ien-Lung Porcelain Ware from the Ch'ing Dynasty in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1986, p. 67, no. 30; and was included in the exhibition, Good Fortune, Long Life, Health and Peace: A Special Exhibition of Porcelains with Auspicious Designs, 1995, pp. 172-3, pl. 94. The 'birds in landscape' theme appears to be a popular choice among Yongzheng period works of art. A similar scene is found on a pair of Yongzheng-marked imperial Beijing enamel facetted vases, sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 31 May 2010, lot 1877.

The depiction of birds on a river bank appears to be a popular theme during the 18th century taking its style from earlier Song dynasty paintings such as that attributed to Cui Que (active latter half of 11th Century), 'Seed-bearing Lycium and Quail' in the National Palace Museum collection, illustrated in Famous Album Leaves of the Song Dynasty, Taipei, 1995, p. 202, no. 56; and another attributed to Li Anzhong (active c. 1131-1162), 'Quail and Wild Chrysanthemums in Autumn', ibid., p. 214, no. 62.

On the present vase, it seems very likely the paintings executed on each side of the compressed body were derived from mid-Ming period 'flower-and-bird' genre paintings that were preserved at the time in the Qing Imperial collection. The Song tradition of 'flower-and-bird' paintings became a popular theme, particularly during the mid-Ming period and was propagated by well-known court artists such as Lin Liang (active 1417-1480) and Lu Ji (fl. 1488-1505). Whilst the subject-matter maybe the same, painting styles of these two artists are vastly different. The delicate and precise brushwork executed on the current vase is more closely related to the works by Lu Ji. The most comparable is a hanging scroll, 'Egrets and Hibiscus', included in the exhibition, Possessing the Past - Treasures from the National Palace Museum, The Metropolitan Museum, New York, 1996, p. 359, pl. 177. A point of note is the similar composition of the birds in both the National Palace Museum hanging scroll and the current vase painted with geese. The former with an egret on the ground, its beak agape and neck turned toward its mate in flight above, is strongly reflected on the ceramic painting where one goose is depicted with its head turned searching the skies for its companion.

The theme of geese appears to be a popular one as it can be explained by the symbolism incorporated in the subject. Geese mate for life and so are often associated with weddings; they are also seen as bringers of good news, due to the role played by a goose in the story of the 2nd Century official Su Wu. Geese are also mentioned in the Liji, Book of Rites, as coming as guests for the autumn, and have come to be associated with longevity. The wild goose in flight suggests the phrase fei hong yannian, 'may the flying wild goose lengthen your years'. The positioning of the geese is also significant - with the flying goose representing 'above' and the goose standing on the river bank representing 'below', to suggest the phrase: huanle tian shangxia, 'happiness in the universe', where the universe is represented by 'heaven above and below'. For a further discussion of this symbolism, see T. Tse Bartholomew, Pious hopes carved on Chinese beads - A discussion of Rebuses and Legends in Chinese Art', Orientations, vol. 19, no. 8, August 1988, pp. 23-30. The quails on the reverse side of the painted vase also provide an equally auspicious message. Although small, quails are known for their courage, and additionally the word for quail is an in Chinese, providing a homophone for the word for peace, while a pair of quails are shuang'an or doubled peace. 

Christie's. Important Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, 1 December 2010, Hong Kong