Lot 3417. A Goryeo celadon 'dragon' vase, meiping, 12th centuryH 37.4cm. Sold for HKD 2,160,000 (Estimate HKD 1,800,000 - 2,500,000)© Poly Auction Hong Kong Limited 2022

The vase has a slightly dished mouth with a thin rim, a short neck and broad shoulders, tapering below the shoulders to a slightly flared shin, and a flat footrim, the body covered with a thin layer of blue glaze, with the porcelain flesh faintly visible. The form is similar to that of a contemporaneous Song dynasty plum vase of Hutian kilns, and the heritage of both is evident. The neck and shoulders are decorated with a band of ruyi leaves, and the foot is decorated with a band of backward motifs, while the body is decorated with a standing dragon with a large mouth, bronze bell eyes, a thin neck, and four claws, the dragon's scales concave and convex, accompanied by walking clouds and flame-shaped pearls, the scales and claws flying in a magnificent manner. The vase is of delicate blue glaze and is covered with a solid, fat glaze that is distinguished by the colour and lines of the glaze and the influence of Chinese art on Koryo porcelain. 

Provenance: Japanese private collection.

Note: Goryeo celadon was always a favourite of the Goryeo upper classes, and the Goryeo poet Li Kui-yen wrote a poem in praise of Goryeo celadon: 'The shadows are as rich as lapis lazuli, exquisitely clear as crystal', and 'The dense jade is like tender skin, and the touch is like touching jade skin'. The perfection with which the celadon was shaped demonstrates the ingenuity of Koryo's porcelain makers. The surviving objects show the variety of shapes and the artistic connotations they embody, reflecting the pursuit of art and spirituality. All of these require the craftsmen's own quality, training and aesthetic skills, as well as careful design of each piece. Goryeo celadon was presented as a valuable official gift to the Song court and the powerful.

The old man Taiping of the Northern Song dynasty once commented on the many firsts in the world at that time in his 'Jin in the Sleeve', saying: 'The Book of Supervision, Inner Wine, Duan Yan, Luoyang Flower, Jianzhou Tea, Shu Jin, Ding Magnetic, ...... Gao Li Secret Colour ...... Beijing Women are the first in the world, although other places follow them, they are not as good. It is clear that during the Song dynasty, the world referred to Jianzhan, Ding porcelain and Koryo porcelain as the best in the world. This reflects the high level of recognition of Koryo celadon at the time. This is evidenced by the fact that Koryo celadon was used at the court of the Southern Song dynasty, as evidenced by both documentary evidence and the excavation of the Song imperial site in Hangzhou.

A Koryo green-glazed plum vase, in the tradition of the Longquan, Ru, Yue and Yaozhou kilns. The blue glaze is a precious material and was only used by the nobility. The glaze is usually grey in colour, and the glaze is elegant and soft, as the inclusions in the glaze are generally high. The dragon motif is carved into the porcelain and then glazed, a technique not unlike that of the blue-glazed wares of the Yaozhou kilns. The closest reference is found in the old Qing-Qianlong pink and blue-glazed plum vase in the Jingguan tang collection, which is carved in light relief with a cloud and dragon motif. There is a similarity between the two that transcends time and space.

Goryeo blue-glazed porcelain, as well as ceramics from the Korean peninsula such as Korean pink and white porcelain, are decorated with a more plain and elegant style. In the early part of the porcelain period, the decoration is more sparse and detailed, while in the later part, the pattern is more balanced and thematic, winning out with its elegance and cleanliness. The slightly grey porcelain, greenish glaze, fair form and soft lines suggest that this is one of the finest pieces of Koryo porcelain, and it is probably in the hands of a skilled potter. The crane motif is more common than the dragon motif in the decoration of Koryo glazed wares. Some scholars have deduced that the dragon motifs depicted here originated on gold and silver vessels from the Khitan dynasty in the central plain, with the flying dragon sinuous and with its head turned towards the sky, and that the dragon motifs on a gold belt buckle excavated from the tomb of the princess of Chen in the Khitan dynasty are almost identical in form.

There are very few surviving Koryo celadon glazes, and those with incised dragons and an emerald green glaze are rare. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Gwangju Museum, Korea, each have two examples in their collections of Goryeo celadon with dragon decoration, both of which are plum blossom vases with a similar dragon pattern to the present example. Sotheby's, New York, 11 September 2019, no. 527, a Koryo dynasty celadon celadon vase with a lotus design; see also a twelfth-century Koryo celadon vase with a lotus pond and ducks in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The National Museum, Tokyo, and the Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka, have collections of similar types of Koryo celadon, but most of them are simple, with simple decoration of plum blossoms and lingzhi-lien, and none of them are of such high quality.

Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version).

Poly Auction Hong Kong Limited. Palatial Splendour: Imperial Ceramics and Works of Art, Hong Kong, 2 Dec 2021