A Sapphire-Blue Porcelain Globular Vase, Seal Mark and Period of Qing Yongzheng Reign

First Auction Results

Tatal Hammer Price exceeding 100 Million HK Dollars

Height: 63cm
Seal mark: “Made in Yongzheng Reign, Qing Dynasty”
Source of acquisition: bought at an auction in Paris, France

The vase is a marvelous work of art among the imperial porcelains of Yongzheng reign. This vessel shape is known as “Globular Vase”, it is worth mentioning that there has always been a saying in the Chinese aesthetics that the heaven is round and the earth is square. Therefore, this kind of bottle with rotund belly is no less than a subtle metaphor of the heaven. Compared with other globular vases, this item appears notably glorious and magnificent. Because Yongzheng reign imperial porcelains admired the ones of Yongle and Xuande reign, the Jingdezhen imperial kiln vigorously imitated the Yongxuan style. Even so, the sapphire-blue glaze was very difficult to be produced. It belongs to high temperature lime alkali glazes, which takes cobalt oxide as color agent, and is enameled directly on the porcelain body and fired at 1280-1300℃ at a time. Its firing technology marked Chinese ceramics industry’s proficient appliance of color agents.

During Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong periods of Qing Dynasty, the production of sapphire-blue glazed porcelains was greatly developed. The court archives of Yongzheng and Qianlong reign recorded that the imperial kiln fired sapphire-blue glaze, for example “Jingdezhen Taolu” written by Lanpu and “Taocheng Jishi” by Tang Ying. This sapphire-blue globular vase turns to be one of Yongzheng reign’s typical vessels, whose appearance is similar to those of Yongle and Xuande periods, and its proportionality is fair, more precious than those of Qianlong reign.

Globular vase was named after the rotund belly similar to celestial sphere. It was first seen in the early Ming Dynasty, the 15th century, coinciding with the sailing age when Zheng He led his huge fleet to the western ocean. According to Investigation on Islamic Factors in Ming Dynasty’s Porcelains(1999) published in Archaeology Journal by Ma Wenkuan, the shape of globular vase was possibly inspired by Islamic bronzes or glass in the Middle East.
Originally named as Qianqiu vase, Globular vase symbolized “peace from generation to generation”. In the history its style stood out from imperial porcelains. Although it cost a lot, the emperors pursued refinement regardless of the expenses. The size of this globular bottle is almost unparalleled throughout Qing Dynasty, There exists only one exception close in size to it, which was once collected by Naval and Military Club and Jingguan Tang, and sold at Christie’s London, 28th June 1968, lot 53, twice at Christie’s Hong Kong, 3rd November 1996, lot 553 and 30th October 2001, lot 805, and Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 25th April 2004, lot 309.
As for the work, there are few examples with such solid size and brilliant blue glaze as this one. Sapphire-blue glaze was invented at Jingdezhen kiln in Yuan Dynasty, then during Xuande reign of Ming Dynasty it ranked among the finest color glazes with ruby-red and sweet white. The piece of globular vase has round mouth, long neck, sloping shoulder, arc body and circular foot. At the center of its white-glazed bottom, there is a neat and beautiful seal mark with blue and white color in two lines and circles with regular script style “Made in Yongzheng Reign, Qing Dynasty”. The entire body is covered with blue glaze as even, bright and delicate as sapphire. The decoration of rush-grass around the rim manages to add tranquility to the vessel and highlight the distinct characteristics of that age. As the shape and profile of this object totally fit the charm of Yongzheng reign porcelains, no modifications would be required.

At the end of Qing Dynasty, Xu Zhiheng wrote in Yinliuzhai Shuoci: “Ancient porcelains adored cyan, so all kinds of green and blue were described as cyan”. Liu Zifen mentioned as well in Zhuyuan Taoshuo that “cyan is often mixed with blue”. The Sapphire-blue glaze looks deep, its surface does not flow, tone is even and presentation of color is stable. The descendants called it “Baoshi Blue” and paralleled it with white glaze and red one, which were the three top-grade color glazes of Xuande reign. The craft inherited the tradition of Yuan Dynasty and was burnt continuously, mainly for palace display. During Ming and Qing Dynasty, this glaze gave grace to instruments because of the solemn and tranquil color. In fact, the number of existed sapphire-blue glazed porcelains is very limited, let alone one with such considerable dimension.
Similar examples can be found in Complete of Cultural Relics Collected in Palace Museum – Color Glazed, Shanghai & Hong Kong: Science and Technology Press, Commercial Press Ltd, 99, 142(1999) and Porcelain collected in Wangxinglou, 224(2004). Besides, on 26th November 2014 Christie’s Hong Kong auctioned a “Qing Qianlong reign bluish-blue glazed globular vase” at the price of HK$31.6 million.

Qianlong Reign-period, Qing Dynasty
Bluish-Blue Glazed Globular Vase
Auctioned at Christie’s Hong Kong
26th November 2014, lot 3275
Height: 55.5cm
Transaction price: HK$31.6 million

It is worth noting that this artifact is matched with a gilded bronze base of rococo style, which was formed during the period of Louis XV with the support and promotion of Madame de Pompadour. The gorgeous and exaggerated decoration and dynamic artistic conception tend to be light and sweet. The gentle wave curve, the refined and complicated sculpture, the elegant rolled-leaf pattern and the naughty little angels make rococo style get the favor of many foreign collectors. Its exquisite sculpture shows the outstanding craft inspiration and artistic level of French artists at that time. This artwork is full of noble taste, with the characteristics of French court in 18th century. Under the blessing of angels, it seems to be slowly narrating to the world the pinnacle of the combination of Chinese and Western art.