CATALOGUE NUMBER 1580
UNDERGLAZE-BLUE & OVERGLAZE-YELLOW DISH
KANGXI PERIOD (1661-1722) WITH MARK
Diameter: 9 ⅞ inches
Sir Joseph Hotung Family Trust
Christies New York, 22nd March 2007, lot 330
The present dish is replete with imperial significance. Blue symbolizes immortality and evokes the sky and water. Yellow, corresponds with Earth, traditionally believed to be at the center of the known universe; a position of such importance that the color was soon associated with the emperor. The powerful combination of the two colors has universal implications; the centrally placed dragon lifts the message to another level.
An ancient and auspicious symbol, the dragon inhabits the
sky and the water, and is connected with fertility and rain;
two facets of early life without control of which man could
not survive. Therianthropic transfer of power belongs only to the most supreme of mortals. With absolute authority over the celestial and terrestrial realms bestowed upon the emperor by the Mandate of Heaven, it seems logical to align the identities of the mythical creature and the earthly ruler. The emperor ruled from the 'Dragon'Throne. When he died he ascended to the heavenly 'Dragon' Throne. The dragon is so embedded in Chinese cultural conscience it is virtually a synonymous emblem of the nation. To differentiate the dragons the number of claws was ranked, five-clawed dragons were imperial, four-clawed dragons for the nobility and three-clawed dragons for ordinary use. For further discussion on the history and representation of dragons see Carol Michaelson, Gilded Dragons, British Museum, London, 1999, nos. 52-54, pp. 91-93 and Hugo Munsterberg, Symbolism in Ancient Chinese Art, New York, 1986, pp. 39-63.
Similar dishes first appear in the Ming dynasty; a ‘dragon’ dish with a frontal yellow dragon on a blue ground, Jiajing mark and period, is illustrated in Jessica Harrison-Hall, Ming Ceramics in the British Museum, London, 2001, no 9:86, p. 252; and another from the Wanli period with the addition of red and black to outline the yellow dragon, ibid, 11:142, p. 330. With the present dish the Kangxi emperor links himself to his immediate Ming predecessors and through them to China’s ancient past. While referencing antiquity, the Kangxi emperor simultaneously underscores his new dynasty and adds to the legacy by creating a unique style of dragon. The dragon is presented in profile infusing it with dynamism and vigor. The features are different as well, with the Kangxi dragons having a pronounced extended lower jaw. In this manner the Manchu emperor pays homage to the past while striking a strong independent note. This refinement would move forward with each subsequent Qing ruler adopting and adapting the powerful symbol.
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. 11. [exhibition catalog].