Lot 3023. An extremely rare large blue and white altar vase, Qing dynasty, Qianlong period, dedicatory inscription to Tang Ying, dated 1741; 65.5 cm, 25 3/4  in. Estimate 3,000,000 — 4,000,000 HKD (381,990 - 509,320 USD). Lot Sold 20,575,000 HKD (2,619,815 USD). Courtesy Sotheby's.

the main body rising from a stepped splayed foot to a broad angled shoulder, all surmounted by a tall neck and flared rim, finely painted overall in rich cobalt-blue tones accentuated with simulated 'heaping and piling', one side with a lobed cartouche enclosing a dedicatory inscription dated to the 5th month of the 6th year of the Qianlong period (in accordance with 1741), delineating that it is made as an offering for the Temple of the King of Mount Tai outside Chaoyangmen, surrounded by lotus blooms borne on dense scrolling leafy stems, the reverse decorated with a large lotus blossom enclosing a central shou medallion, all above an upright ruyi border and below a pendent lappet frieze collaring the sloping shoulder, the trumpet neck densely painted with large lotus blooms borne on undulating leafy scrolls, between a classic scroll at the mouth-rim and a band of stylised plantain leaves rising from the collar, all supported on a stepped splayed base further divided into registers of floral and foliate borders above a frieze of undulating lines encircling the foot.

Note: Under the supervision of Tang Ying (1682-1756), Superintendent of the imperials kilns in Jingdezhen during the Yongzheng (r. 1723-35) and early Qianlong (r. 1736-95) periods, not only were the expectations and standards on ceramic production set to a more rigorous level, the master craftsmen were also prompted to develop novel and innovative designs. Within an eight-month time span between the 10th month of the 5th year (1740) and the 5th month of the 6th year (1741), Tang Ying commissioned at least five sets of reign-marked altar garnitures as an offering for temples in places including Dongba, outside Dongzhimen and Chaoyangmen. The inscription on the current vase suggests that the vessel would have been part of such altar garnitures.

Far from the vessels that were produced by imperial command, such sets of five altar garnitures were commissioned on behalf of Tang Ying and inscribed with his name as an offering to various temples, an act which was believed to not only allow Tang Ying to accumulate blessings but also express gratitude. It was perhaps by virtue of the birth of his son in the 5th year of the Qianlong reign (1740), before Tang Ying’s 60th birthday, that such sets were commissioned so as to give thanks and ask for continued blessings (Tang Ying, Taoren xinyu [Words from the heart of a potter], vol. 3, p. 14).

According to the inscription, the vessel was made as an offering for King of Mount Tai in the temple outside Chaoyangmen, modern-day Daiyue dian in the Temple of Eastern Peak in the Beijing Folk Customs Museum. Built in the 6th year of the Yuanyou reign of the Yuan dynasty (1319), the Daoist temple was held in particularly high esteem in the Ming and Qing dynasties, during which the temple was refurbished and expanded.

Although there is a number of extant related vases, the current vase with this particular inscription is extremely rare. In fact, that which is referred to in Geng Baochang’s essay appears to be the only other recorded example – if not the same piece, see 'Tan Tang Ying kuan de ciqi ji qita [A discussion on Tang Ying marked porcelain]', Jingdezhen taoci [Jingdezhen ceramics], 1982, no. 2, p. 3.

Compare large sets of five blue and white reign-marked altar garnitures commissioned by Tang Ying for temples outside of Beijing, such as one dated to the 10th month of the 5th year for temples outside Dongzhimen, including a pair of altar vessels now in the Shanghai Museum, originally made for the altar of the Saintly Mother Heavenly Immortal, illustrated in Wang Qingzheng, Underglaze Blue and Red, Hong Kong, 1987, pl. 124; and another from the British Rail Pension Fund, sold in these rooms, 16th May 1989, lot 39. A pair of candlesticks that was previously commissioned for an altar for Guanyin is now in the Roemer-Museum, Hildesheim, Germany, and illustrated in Ulrich Wiesner, Chinesisches Porzellan. Die Ohlmer’sche Sammlung im Roemer-Museum, Hildesheim, Mainz, 1981, pp. 44 and 108-109.

In the spring of the 6th year, Tang Ying also commissioned garnitures for the altar of the Saintly Mother Heavenly Immortal at Dongba. Only three extant vases appear to be recorded, all of which slightly differ from the current vase, with the inscription commencing ‘Made under the general supervision of Yangxindian’ followed by a detailed delineation of Tang Ying’s roles. See one from the collection of the Tsui Museum of Art and now in the Chinese University of Hong Kong, decorated on the shoulder with ruyi heads, above pomegranate flowers around the lower body, illustrated in The Tsui Museum of Art. Chinese Ceramics IV: Qing Dynasty, Hong Kong, 1995, pl. 73, and later included in the exhibition Qing Imperial Porcelain of the Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong Reigns, Art Gallery, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 1995, cat. no. 75; another related example is in the National Museum of China, Beijing, decorated with lotus petals and a lingzhi scroll, and illustrated in Zhongguo wenwu jinghua daquan [Compendium of Chinese Art – Porcelain], Hong Kong, 1993, no. 913; and the third from a French collection, sold in these rooms, 8th April 2007, lot 509, with the shoulder and foot designs respectively painted similarly to the vases in the Chinese University of Hong Kong and National Museum of China, Beijing. For a pair of candlesticks also commissioned for the Saintly Mother Heavenly Immortal in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, see Rose Kerr, Chinese Ceramics. Porcelain of the Qing Dynasty 1644–1911, London, 1986, p. 69, pl. 45.

Sotheby'sAn Important Collection of Chinese Ceramics, Hong Kong, 08 Oct 2019