National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Vase with Ringed Neck Chinese Qing Dynasty (artist)
Vase with Ringed Neck, Kangxi period, 1662/1722
porcelain with celadon glaze
overall: 19.3 x 8 cm (7 5/8 x 3 1/8 in.)
Widener Collection
1942.9.501
Not on View
From the Tour: Chinese Porcelains
Object 3 of 24

This dragon-decorated vase is essentially a variant of one of the prescribed peachbloom shapes, the "three-string vase," so named after the three ridges adorning the base of its neck.1 The relief design of two three-clawed dragons distinguishes it from the majority of the Qing monochromes in the National Gallery collection, which are devoid of any added ornament.2 Indeed it would appear that the majority of Qing monochromes, particularly the very finest Kangxi wares, were most often left plain. Nevertheless, these celadon-glazed dragon-decorated vases are well represented in many collections. Vases virtually identical to this example are found at the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven; the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco; the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore; the Palace Museum, Beijing; and the Tsui Museum, Hong Kong.3 The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, owns two "three-string" vases with further variations on this theme: a white Kangxi vessel with underglaze red dragons cavorting in relief waves quite similar to those in the celadon examples; and a Yongzheng piece adorned with an elaborate underglaze red scene of dragons and waves.4

Some scholars suggest that the smooth-skinned, three-clawed, single-horned, fork-tailed relief dragons on these celadon vases more closely resemble the archaistic chi dragons often seen on Song and Yuan porcelains than the scaly-skinned, five-clawed, two-horned, long dragon, which is more typical of Qing wares.5 However, these creatures are generally described as haishui (ocean) long, rather than chi, in Chinese captions to vases of this type, while chi seems to be reserved for a more serpentine creature with a much smaller head.6 In any case, the National Gallery's original curatorial notes describe the creatures as "archaistic dragon forms," and of that there is little doubt. Although the Qianlong reign is more generally associated with antiquarianism than that of Kangxi, a taste for the antique was common among China's educated elite at least from the Song dynasty onward, and it is likely that they were the intended audience for this piece.

Dragons frequently appear on Chinese ceramics, often in pairs contending over a flaming, magical pearl. The image presented here of two dragons cavorting among clouds and waves is a variant. It may owe something to the influential paintings of Chen Rong (fl. c. 1200-1266), who often painted dragons fighting among clouds and waves, though judging from the works attributed to him, his dragons were scaled and two-horned.7 These dragons do not appear to be challenging each other, and although the dragons are similar in size, one commentator has interpreted them as mother and young.8

(Text by Virginia Bower/Stephen Little, published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue: Decorative Arts, Part II: Far Eastern Ceramics and Painting; Persian and Indian Rugs and Carpets)

Notes

1. Ralph M. Chait, "The Eight Prescribed Peachbloom Shapes Bearing Kang-hsi Marks," Oriental Art 3 (Winter 1957), 130-137. "Three-string vase" is a direct translation of the Chinese san xian ping, and Chait explains that the Chinese likened the ridges to the strings of musical instruments. He also mentions that this form is sometimes described by the Chinese as "turnip-shaped." See, for example, Yihua Li, ed., Kangxi Yongzheng, Qianlong Qing Porcelain from the Palace Museum Collection, Hong Kong; Beijing, 1989, 146-147, no. 129, repro.; and Ho-pi Tsai, ed., Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of Kang-hsi, Yung-cheng and Chien-ling Porcelain Ware from the Ching Dynasty in the National Palace Museum [Exh. cat. National Palace Museum], Taipei, 1986, 41, no. 13, repro. This word can also be used to refer to a radish; see Keyang Yang, ed., Taoci, 3 vols., Shanghai, 1988, vol. 3, 56, no. 157, 135, repro. Yang indicates that either laifu and luobo(the word generally used for radish, usually meaning the red, but also sometimes including the white variety) is an acceptable descriptive term for the shape of this vase. Though Chait professes puzzlement at this appellation, it does not seem too remote if the vegetable and vessel are both considered in profile.

2. Among the few other decorated monochromes in the National Gallery collection are the celadon and peachbloom vases with molded petal bands (1942.9.499, 500, 511-513, 521), three white vessels (1942.9.548-550), and a white porcelain bowl (1942.9.551) with incised patterns.

3. Mary Gardner Neill, ed., The Communion of Scholars: Chinese Art at Yale, New York, 1982, 82-83, no. 35, repro.; René-Yvon Lefebvre d'Argencé, Chinese Ceramics in the Avery Brundage Collection, San Francisco, 1967, 138-139, pl. 64C (my thanks to Clarence F. Shangraw for the information that the clair de lune identification of this vase in the catalogue was an error and that this is in fact a typical celadon example); Stephen W. Bushell, Oriental Ceramic Art: Collection of W. T. Walters, New York, 1980, color pl. 7, for the example in the Walters Art Gallery; Li 1989, 146-147, no. 129, repro.; The Tsui Museum of Art (Hong Kong, 1991), no. 124, repro.

4. Suzanne Valenstein, A Handbook of Chinese Ceramics in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1989, 220, no. 211, repro., and color pl. 36. Other Kangxi-marked or -attributed celadon vases exist with carved or incised dragons that occupy a larger portion of the vase body. Though sharing the same oviform profile, they may have only one or no ridges on their necks, and thus differ from the classic "three-string" form. These include an example in the British Museum, London: Soame Jenyns, Later Chinese Porcelain: The Ching Dynasty, 1644-1912, New York, 1951, pl. 40; the Taft Museum, Cincinnati: Sheila Keppel, China in 1700: Kangxi Porcelains at the Taft Museum [Exh. cat. The Taft Museum, Cincinnati], Cincinnati, 1988, 22, no. 12, 21, repro.; and the Baur Collection, Geneva: John Ayers, The Baur Collection, Geneva: Chinese Ceramics, 4 vols., Geneva, 1968-1974, vol. 3, A358.

5. Louisa Cunningham, in describing the Yale piece, links the dragons on that vessel to Song-dynasty chi dragons: see Neill 1982, 82. There is an extensive bibliography available on dragons in Chinese art. See Jessica Rawson, Chinese Ornament: The Lotus and the Dragon, London, 1984, 93-98; and Xin Yang, Yihua Li, and Naixiang Xu, The Art of the Dragon, Boston, 1988. The best discussion of dragon types, especially chi and long, can be found in Jan Wirgin, Song Ceramic Designs, London, 1979, 186-190.

6. Yang 1988, 3: 56, 135, no. 157, repro.; and Li 1989, 146-147, 129, repro. Both use haishui long: Li 1989, 164, no. 147, reproduces a yellow glazed cup with what are specifically called chi dragons, and they are quite different from the dragons on this vase, being small-headed with short bodies.

7. Louise Allison Cort, Jan Stuart, and Laurence Chi-sing Tam, Joined Colors: Decoration and Meaning in Chinese Porcelain [Exh. cat. Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution], Washington, 1993, 40. Stuart makes the connection with Chen Rong.

8. Yang 1988, 3: 56, 135, no. 157, repro.

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