Jorge Welsh Works of Art, London/Lisbon specialises in Chinese porcelain with an emphasis on export porcelain. The gallery returns to Fine Art Asia 2018 with rare works of art including a porcelain vase decorated in underglaze cobalt blue dating from the Kangxi period (1662-1722) of the Qing Dynasty. Vases of this shape and size are generally referred to as ‘soldier’ or ‘dragoon’ vases. This name derives from an historic exchange between Augustus the Strong (1670-1733), Elector of Saxony, King of Poland and Lithuania who was an avid collector of Chinese porcelain and received 151 porcelain vessels from the ‘Soldier King’ Friedrich Wilhelm I (1688-1740), King of Prussia and Elector of Brandenburg, in 1717.
Vases of enormous dimensions were first made at great expense in the late Kangxi period as a result of impressive technical achievements by the potters at the kilns in Jingdezhen. As they were extremely difficult to make, they were the most costly Chinese porcelain exported to the West at this time. In Europe, these vases were used to decorate the doorways and rooms of a private house.
Although vases of this shape were only made for export, the decoration is Chinese in concept. Narrative themes included scenes from Chinese history, mythology, novels, dramas and poetry, and were influenced by contemporary political issues, such as the rise of the Manchu Qing dynasty after 1644. The scene depicted may illustrate an episode from one of the many novels popular among ladies of the nobility at the time. One of the most celebrated stories was the ‘Romance of the Western Chamber’.
Another highlight piece is a copper dish decorated with polychrome enamels from the Qianlong period (1736-1795) of the Qing Dynasty. Painted enamels were introduced to China by European merchants, diplomats and missionaries in the Kangxi period (1662-1722). Although a small number of these wares were produced in Beijing for the emperor, they are frequently referred to as ‘Canton’ enamel, after the main centre of production in China.
Drawing on a long tradition representing Chinese Imperial authority, the dragon depicted on the present dish would have been equally coveted by domestic and foreign clients. Akin to the four-clawed dragon (蟒 mang), which took a front-facing position when appearing as ceremonial state symbol on courtly robes, the animal on this dish is paired with several attributes conveying auspicious messages.
Dragons paired with bats became especially popular during the Qianlong period, as they took advantage of two puns: bats (蝠fu) for good fortune (福 fu) and dragons (龙 long) for prosperity (隆 long, the same character in the emperor’s name). In addition, dragons and phoenixes form a conjugal pairing popularly used as a wedding gift.
A slightly larger dish decorated with a similar composition to this one is in the British Museum, London. Further comparable dishes are in the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.