A famille verte moonflask
Kangxi period, China
Height: 26 cm
The flattened globular body moulded on both sides with a recessed circular panel enclosing a sinuous four-clawed dragon confronting a leaping red carp and rising from tumultuous green waves interspersed with flowerheads, the slender neck and globular upper body enamelled with a selection of babao and bajixiang, flanked by applied lappet-shaped handles decorated with a ruyi-head design above three further babao and bajixiang emblems.
The enamelled decoration on the moonflask is rich in symbolism. On each side of the circular body a dramatic carp and a four-clawed dragon frolic together in a turbulent sea. The pairing of these two creatures is an allusion to success in the Civil Service examinations. As the tradition goes, any carp that could leap the Dragon Gate in the Yellow River would transform into a dragon and fly off into the sky. The tale of a fish turning into a dragon was an enduring motif in Chinese dynastic art and one that became symbolic of the highest achievement a young scholar could hope for: passing the jinshi examination and becoming a government official.
On the mouth and neck we see four of the Eight Buddhist Emblems, bajixiang, four of the Precious Objects, babao, and two of the Four Arts, siyi, suggesting that it is one of a pair. The presence of the Four Arts, in this case the qin, representing musical accomplishment, and a group of scrolls, representing competence in calligraphy, strengthens the positive scholarly message of the decorative scheme.
The distinctive shape of the present vase is a revival of a classic blue and white ‘pilgrim’s bottle’ produced in the Imperial kilns during the Yongle and Xuande periods and thought to be based on Near or Middle-Eastern metalware or pottery prototypes.
John Sparks Ltd., London (label) A distinguished English private collection
Geng Baochang, Ming Qing ciqi jianding, Hong Kong 1993, p.21, fig.31.