CATALOGUE NUMBER 0112
POWDER BLUE & GILT PHOENIX-TAIL VASE
KANGXI PERIOD (1661-1722)
Height: 18 inches
Ralph M. Chait Galleries, New York, 1998
The present vase is skillfully painted with eight gilt reserves each illustrating a stanza of Du Fu’s famous poem, 'The Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup'. Althought the subjects of this Tang dynasty poem were contemporaries, fellow scholars and poets, their elite literati status elevates them to the immortality of the title. The poem describes the rambunctious overindulgence of each of the eight 'immortals' as they participate in revelry to escape from everyday concerns, transcend the material world and gain entrance to a realm of artistic inspiration.
Blue monochromatic wares with gilt decoration first appear in the Yuan dynasty. An example from the period, a small blue and gilt pouring cup now in the Palace Museum Beijing is illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum,Monochrome Porcelain, Hong Kong, 1999, vol. 37, p. 68, no. 62. During the Kangxi period it was the custom to spray the cobalt oxide onto the porcelain which gives an attractive, mottled quality to the wares. Perhaps as the potters at Jingdezhen were working to revive copper red glazes from the Ming dynasty, they were also experimenting with techniques to recreate the rare famous blue ‘snowflake’ glaze of the Xuande period. For bowls decorated with the 'snowflake' glaze see an example now in the Capital Museum, Beijing illustrated in Shoudu Bowuguan cangci xuan, Beijing, 1991, pl. 104 and another in the British Museum illustrated in Regina Krahl and Jessica Harrison-Hall, Chinese Ceramics, Highlights of the Sir Percival David Collection, London, 2009, pl. 34. Whatever the initial inspiration, the powder blue was more often than not further ornamented with gilt painted decoration; the cool metallic tones contrasting effectively with the rich mottled blue. Although there are no Kangxi era examples with a reign mark, the palette sustained imperial favor with mark and period pieces being produced from the Qianlong period until the end of the Qing dynasty.
'Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup'
Du Fu (712-770)
Translated by Shigeyoshi Obata, 1921.
Zhizhang rides his horse, but staggers
As on a reeling ship.
Should he, blear-eyed, tumble into a well,
He would lie in the bottom, fast asleep.
The Prince of Ruyang must have three jugfuls
Ere he goes up to court.
How copiously his royal mouth waters
As a brewer's cart passes by!
It's a pity, he mournfully admits,
That he is not the lord of Wine Spring.
Our minister Li squanders at the rate
Of ten thousand qian per day;
He inhales like a great whale,
Gulping one hundred rivers;
And with a cup in his hand insists,
He loves the Sage and avoids the Wise.
Songzhi a handsome youth, fastidious,
Disdains the rabble,
But turns his gaze toward the blue heaven,
Holding his beloved bowl.
Radiant is he like a tree of jade,
That stands against the breeze.
Su Jin, the religious, cleanses his soul
Before his painted Buddha.
But his long rites must needs be interrupted
As oft he loves to go on a spree.
As for Li Bai, give him a jugful,
He will write one hundred poems.
He drowses in a wine-shop
On a city street of Chang'an;
And though his sovereign calls,
He will not board the imperial barge.
"Please your Majesty," says he,
"I am a god of wine."
Zhang Xu is a calligrapher of renown,
Three cups makes him the master.
He throws off his cap, baring his pate
Unceremoniously before princes,
And wields his inspired brush, and lo!
Wreaths of cloud roll on the paper.
Jiao Sui, another immortal, elate
After full five jugfuls,
Is eloquent of heroic speech –
The wonder of all the feasting hall.
Text and images on this page appear courtesy of
Sotheby's New York and are excerpted from:
Sotheby's New York. Embracing Classic Chinese Culture: Kangxi Porcelain from the Jie Rui Tang Collection. March 14, 2014, p. 46. [exhibition catalog].