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A Magnificent Pear-Shaped Reticulated Celadon Vase, Seal Mark and Period of Qianlong

sublimely spectacular, the elegantly proportioned bottle vase with a gently swelling belly sweeping up to a slender slightly flaring neck, masterfully engineered with a deftly reticulated band of two large peonies with lush petals encircled by scrolling leaves subtly incised with veining, the openwork areas revealing a plain integral vase beneath, all below a finely carved low-relief band of upright plantain leaves collaring the neck with pendant ruyi lappets around the mouth and detached ruyi heads each containing stylised lotus flowers around the shoulder, supported on a carved lotus petal band skirting the base and a low foot incised with a key-fret band, all beneath a glassy tea green celadon glaze pooling in the recesses creating layers of depth, the base marked with a six-character reign mark in underglaze blue. 31.8 cm., 12 1/2 in. Estimate 15,000,000—20,000,000 HKD

PROVENANCE: Acquired in Europe in the 1960s.

NOTE: Double-walled reticulated (jiazeng linglong) vases may be called the last great Qing innovation in porcelain design, although Qing potters did in fact not invent them at all. Already some three hundred years earlier, in the early Ming period, did potters at the Longquan kilns in Zhejiang province come up with this amazing technique, probably so as to provide with this sensational break-through a noteworthy answer to the rising competition from Jingdezhen. The present vase is a remarkably close copy of a Longquan example of the early 15th century, such as that in the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, University of Florida, in Gainesville, Florida, sold in our New York rooms 22nd/23rd September 2004, lot 205 (fig. 1).

While the delicate, exquisitely styled relief designs on the neck and lower part of the present vase have all been translated from the somewhat rough and rustic character of the Ming version into the refined design language of the Qing, the overall decoration of the vase retains all the powerful rhythm of the Longquan original. Only one other companion piece appears to be recorded – and these vases were probably made only in pairs – a vase in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in Zhongguo taoci quanji [Complete series on Chinese ceramics], vol.15, Shanghai, 2000, pl. 85 (our fig. 2).

In their bold and powerful aspect these vases are very different from other celadon-glazed reticulated vases, with are equally rare and known only in pairs: compare the pair of octagonal vases, which are also separated today, with one remaining in the Palace Museum from the Qing court collection (Kangxi, Yongzheng, Qianlong. Qing Porcelain from the Palace Museum Collection, Hong Kong, 1989, p. 440, pl. 122), while the other was sold in our New York rooms 12th June 1984, lot 292 and more recently again in these rooms, 2nd May 2005, lot 516. Although similar in glaze colour, decoration technique and style, the octagonal vases are firmly anchored in the Qing aesthetic, with only vague reverberations of Longquan celadon prototypes. The present style may thus represent an early example of this Qing revival technique, where the original was still followed rather closely.

Openwork vases imitating Longquan ware are already mentioned in Qing court records of AD 1742, and in AD 1743 Tang Ying submitted a memorial to the Qianlong emperor recording his presentation to the court of a total of nine jiazeng linglong ('layered openwork') and interlocking (jiao tai) vases; see Liao Pao Show's introduction in the exhibition catalogue Stunning Decorative Porcelains from the Ch'ien-lung Reign, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 2008, pp. 27f. With its lively, yet elegant and restrained decorative scheme the present example clearly bears the signature of Tang Ying's craftsmanship and its close stylistic affinity to works from the Yongzheng reign also suggests manufacture very early in the Qianlong period.

Eventually, as the development went further and further away from the Ming originals, the discourse with the past so highly treasured by the Qing emperors and other contemporary connoisseurs, was completely lost. With the inner core decorated in enamels and in addition made to revolve, and the necks provided with elaborate handles, as in a celadon-glazed example with plenty of gilding, sold at Christie's Hong Kong 31st October 1994, lot 660, the Longquan origin of this technique is long forgotten.

Sotheby's. Eight Treasures from a European Collection. 08 Apr 09.  Hong Kong. www.sothebys.com photo courtesy Sotheby's