A fine blue and white Ming-style arrow vase, seal mark and period of Qianlong

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Lot 3686. A fine blue and white Ming-style arrow vase, seal mark and period of Qianlong (1736-1795), 19.3 cm, 7 5/8  in. Estimate 1,200,000 — 1,500,000 HKD. Lot sold 1,500,000 HKD. Photo: Sotheby's.

the ovoid body painted with stylised foliate scrolls, set between pendent and upright plantain leaves, the tall cylindrical neck detailed with swirling waves rising to a slightly flared rim, flanked by a pair of lug handles and fastened together with a keyfret band, the underside inscribed with a six-character seal mark.

ProvenanceChristie's Hong Kong, 30th May 2006, lot 1408.
Sotheby's Hong Kong, 8th October 2010, lot 2780.

NoteThe present vase is an archetypal example of the archaistic style favoured by the Qianlong Emperor as it follows imperial porcelain designs of the Xuande reign, which were in turn inspired by archaic bronze vessels. A closely related vase from the Qing court collection and still in Beijing, included in the International Exhibition of Chinese Art, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1935, is published in Illustrated Catalogue of Chinese Government Exhibits for the International Exhibition of Chinese Art in London, Shanghai, 1936, pl. 263; another in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, is illustrated in Blue-and-White Ware of the Ch’ing Dynasty, Hong Kong, 1968, vol. II, pl. 7; a third in the Nanjing Museum, Nanjing, is illustrated in The Official Kiln Porcelain of the Chinese Qing Dynasty, Shanghai, 2003, pl. 140; and a further example was sold at Christie’s New York, 19th March 2008, lot 601. For the Xuande prototype of this vase, see one in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, included in the Museum’s Special Exhibition of Hsuan-Te Wares, Taipei, 1980, cat. no. 8.

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A Ming-style blue and white vase, Qianlong seal mark in underglaze blue and of the period (1736-1795), 7 5/8 in. (19.3 cm.) high. Sold for USD 115,000 at Christie’s New York, 19th March 2008, lot 601. © Christie's Images Ltd 2008

Cf. my post A Ming-style blue and white vase, Qianlong seal mark in underglaze blue and of the period (1736-1795)

Vases of this elegant form are known as arrow vases on account of their similarity with archaic bronze vessels used for touhu, a ‘pitch-pot’ game. Touhu was a contest between players who had to throw arrows into the mouth or tubular handles of the vase which was placed at an equal distance between two mats on which the players knelt (for a painting illustrating the Xuande Emperor enjoying the game, see The Edward T. Chow Xuande Bowllot 3301, fig. 1). Touhu or arrow vases continued to be produced in the Song dynasty and later, and were made in various media including bronze, cloisonné and ceramics. This particular design appears to have been first reproduced in the Yongzheng reign; see for example a Yongzheng mark and period vase, in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in Qingdai yuyao ciqi [Qing porcelains from the imperial kilns preserved in the Palace Museum], vol. 1, pt. II, Beijing, 2005, pl. 22.

Sotheby's. Important Chinese Art, Hong Kong, 03 Oct 2017