Lot 3610. A fine and large blue and white 'Lotus scroll' moonflask, Seal mark and period of Qianlong (1736-1795), 44.5 cm, 17 1/2 in. Estimate 20,000,000 — 30,000,000 HKD. Lot sold 24,100,000 HKD. Photo: Sotheby's.
well modelled with a flattened globular body tapering to an oval foot, surmounted by a tall waisted neck flanked by a pair of archaistic dragon handles, boldly painted in vivid tones of cobalt blue with simulated 'heaping and piling', depicting large stylised lotuses and smaller attendant blooms borne on an undulating foliate meander, between pendent ruyi heads and upright lappets, all below a band of plantain leaves at the neck, the mouth and foot encircled by bands of cresting waves, the underside inscribed with a six-character seal mark.
Provenance: Sotheby's Hong Kong, 17th May 1988, lot 183.
Christie's Hong Kong, 30th October 1995, lot 668A.
Christie's Hong Kong, 1st December 2010, lot 3057.
Note: The Qianlong Emperor’s connoisseurship of arts is well documented and his vast collection, particularly of ceramics, contained spectacular masterpieces. For its magnificent and expertly painted design the present moonflask would have been amongst his prized possessions. It represents one of the most challenging and advanced pieces made during his reign. The production of exquisitely decorated large and undistorted vessels required considerable expertise from the potter, who for this piece borrowed extensively from archaic forms and decorative motifs while retaining a sense of modernity. Reference to ancient forms and designs was much appreciated by the Qianlong Emperor who embraced art not only for its intrinsic beauty but also to cement his connection to a glorious past.
The Qianlong Emperor’s generous patronage and personal taste, which tended towards extravagant and showy pieces, greatly influenced the making of technically challenging and artistically complex display pieces. The production of large vessels, which are considerably heavy, required the highest level of technical skill only to be found amongst potters working in the imperial kilns at Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province, under the instructions of China’s preeminent Superintendent, Tang Ying. Imperial records reveal that the Qianlong Emperor habitually asked Tang Ying to design special pieces for him, thus opening avenues for such fine wares to be created.
The decoration on this vase is meticulously executed in the finest cobalt blue. The composition of lotus blooms and foliate scrolls is perfectly balanced through a thorough understanding of the importance of spacing in successfully creating a rich yet not overcrowded design. Such curling lines are offset by the bold geometric nature of the petal and leaf borders, all of which are hemmed in with crashing wave bands around the foot and mouth rim – ingeniously selected as they mirror the curvilinear and geometric forms of the overall design.
Both the shape and decoration of the vessel take their inspiration from early fifteenth century blue and white porcelain that formed part of the imperial collection. The flat circular form has its roots in archaic bronzes which were adapted into porcelain and painted with a luxurious lotus design during the Ming dynasty. In Qinggong neiwufu zaobanchu dang’an, Jiangxi shao ciqi chu [Archival records from the Qing imperial household department workshop, ceramics production in Jiangxi], it is mentioned that in the third year of the Qianlong period (corresponding to 1738), a number of large imperial Xuande blue and white moonflasks was reproduced for decoration (see Zhang Rong (comp.), Yangxindian Zaobanchu shiliao jilan [Reader of historical material on the Workshops in the Hall of Mental Cultivation], vol. 2: Qianlong chao [Qianlong period], Beijing, 2012, pp. 65-68). For a Xuande lotus scroll decorated moonflask of this size, but standing on a very short foot and without handles, see one in the Qing court collection and still in Beijing, published in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Blue and White Porcelain with Underglazed Red (I), Hong Kong, 2008, no. 98. The reference to these early wares is further highlighted on the present piece in the deliberate ‘heaping and piling’ of the cobalt to imitate their predecessor’s mottled effect.
A closely related moonflask was sold in our New York rooms, 20th September 2000, lot 124, and again in these rooms, 2nd May 2005, lot 650; another was sold in these rooms, 29th November 1978, lot 231; a third was sold at Christie’s London, 12th December 1977, lot 164; and another was sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 19th January 1988, lot 319. Moonflasks of this type are also known with one central bloom surrounded by eight smaller variations of the lotus in a grid composition and less stylised leaves encircling the neck; see one illustrated in Chinese Porcelain. The S.C. Ko Tianminlou Collection, Hong Kong, 1987, pl. 65; another sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 1st October 1992, lot 958; and a third sold in these rooms, 24th May 1985, lot 549.
A large blue and white 'Lotus scroll' moonflask, Seal mark and period of Qianlong. Estimate 600,000 — 800,000 HKD. Lot sold 960,000 HKD at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 2nd May 2005, lot 650. Photo: Sotheby's.
the flattened circular body boldly painted with a broad band of scrolling lotus, the stylised blooms borne on slender meandering stems with curled leaves and tendrils, between a band of pendant ruyi-heads around the shoulder and a lappet border encircling the base, the tapered neck decorated with upright leaves and flanked by pierced loop handles in the form of archaistic dragons, all within a wave border encircling the lipped rim and repeated around the tapered foot
Provenance: Sotheby's New York, 20th September 2000, lot 124.
Note: A Qianlong moon flask of the same design is illustrated in Chinese Porcelain: The S.C. Ko Tianminlou Collection, Hong Kong, 1987, pl. 65; another was sold in these rooms, 17th May 1988, lot 183.
Moonflasks of this dragon-handled form and lotus scroll decoration were also produced with a proportionately smaller neck decorated with a lotus scroll; see a larger example with a flared foot, sold at Christie’s New York, 19th March 2008, lot 606; and a slightly smaller moonflask, but with a shorter foot encircled by three lines and the mouth rim with a lingzhi scroll, sold in these rooms, 30th April 1996, lot 431. For the Yongzheng inspiration to these vases, see one from the collection of Dr Chang Hsi-Hai, sold in our New York rooms, 23rd/24th May 1974, lot 426, and again in these rooms, 16th May 1977, lot 93.
A very rare large blue and white moonflask, Qianlong seal mark in underglaze blue and of the period (1736-1795), 21 3/8 in. (54.3 cm.) high. Estimate USD 500,000 - USD 600,000. Price realised USD 541,000 at Christie’s New York, 19th March 2008, lot 606. © Christie's Images Ltd 2008
Well painted in fifteenth century style in rich underglaze blue with simulated 'heaping and piling' with an allover pattern of composite foliate meander, the penciled, scrolling, leafy stems bearing a central lotus blossom surrounded by six further flowers on each side and three flowers on the narrow sides below the dragon handles, each stem terminating in a smaller blossom, above a band of froth-capped waves encircling the rounded rectangular foot, repeated on the waisted neck above another band of flower scroll and a ruyi-head border.
Property from the personal collection of David H. Murdok
Note: This large, rare, and magnificent flask is a testament to the superb craftsmanship of the potters at the Imperial kilns in the Qianlong reign. The shape is well potted, and the decoration - painted in the finest cobalt - is extremely well painted, while the decorative scheme is beautifully balanced to complement the form of the flask. Both the shape of the flask and the mixed floral scroll that provides its main decoration take their inspiration from Ming 15th century Imperial porcelains. The Qianlong Emperor greatly admired 15th century blue and white porcelains and had a considerable number in his collection. Indeed a 15th century blue and white moonflask, with scroll handles on either side of the neck and decorated with a floral scroll, appears on a table with other antiques to the right of the Emperor in an anonymous portrait entitled One or Two - Painting of the Emperor Qianlong Appreciating Antiques in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in The Golden Exile - Pictorial Expressions of the School of Western Missionaries' Artworks of the Qing Court, Museu de Arte de Macau, 2002, no. 41.
The 15th century moonflasks did not have discernable foot rings, and indeed many of the 18th century blue and white flasks appear to have little in the way of a foot below the lower edge of their circular bodies. A Yongzheng blue and white vase of this shape illustrated in Chinese Porcelain - The S.C. Ko Tianminlou Collection, part II, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong, 1987, p. 80, no. 54, is decorated with a mixed floral scroll of the flowers of the four seasons. A Qianlong version of this low-footed form, also decorated with a mixed floral scroll from the T. T. Tsui Collection is illustrated in The Tsui Museum of Art - Chinese Ceramics IV - Qing Dynasty, Hong Kong, 1995, no. 74.
A smaller, low-footed, Qianlong flask in the Tianminlou Collection is interesting because it shares with the current flask, not only the form of its dragon handles and mixed floral scroll disposed over the body, but also a wave band around the mouth and base, illustrated in Chinese Porcelain - The S.C. Ko Tianminlou Collection, op. cit., p. 92, no. 65. The same handles, wave bands and low-footed shape can be seen on a larger Qianlong flask from the Chang Foundation Collection illustrated in Selected Chinese Ceramics from Han to Qing Dynasties, Taipei, 1990, pp. 334-5, no. 148. On this flask, however, the mixed floral scroll is restricted to the sides, and the front and back have a design of phoenix and dragon. Both of these last two flasks have archaistic plantain leaf bands around the neck.
The flasks with taller flared foot, like the current example, may have been developed for greater stability, to give a more pleasing balance to the form, or may simply have been a response to the fashion for displaying objects on stands. A large Qianlong flask, although still slightly smaller than the current vessel, with the taller, flared, foot in the collection of the Shanghai Museum is illustrated by Liu Liang-yu in A Survey of Chinese Ceramics 5, Ch'ing Official and Popular Wares, Taipei, 1991, p. 152, upper image. This flask shares the same basic form as the current vessel, but the dragon handles are in the form of chidragons, rather than being the flattened archaistic type seen on the other flasks, and the vase is covered with a floral scroll, except for the circular panels front and back, which contain peaches, bats and waves. Another large flask with the taller, flared foot, which is only slightly smaller than the current example, with a design of dragons in clouds above waves, was sold at Sotheby's, London, 7 November 2007, lot 407.
The current moonflask appears to be the largest of the published flasks of this type, and its design of six mixed blossoms encircling a seventh blossom is a particularly pleasing decoration for this form. The floral scroll on the neck complements the body design, while the narrow, but bold, wave bands at mouth and foot provide an effective counterpoint to the more delicate floral scrolls.