Imperial kilns, Jingdezhen, Daoguang iron-red seal mark and of the period, 18211850 5.42cm high.
Treasury 6, no. 1321
Gift from the emperor
Famille rose enamels on colourless glaze on porcelain; with a convex lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding convex footrim; painted with a continuous design of a four-clawed dragon clutching a flaming pearl surrounded by flames; the foot inscribed in iron-red seal script, Daoguang nian zhi ('Made during the Daoguang period'); the lip, inner neck, and interior glazed Imperial kilns, Jingdezhen, 18211850 Height: 5.42 cm Mouth/lip: 0.71/1.76 cm Stopper: turquoise, carved with a coiled chi dragon; silver collar
Condition: areas of the outer footrim where the glaze does not run all the way down to the edge of the footrim, one of which gives the impression of a chip from the glaze, but doesn't appear to be; minor scratches and abrasions from use, barely visible without magnification. General relative condition: excellent
Provenance: Robert Hall (1983)
Published: Treasury 6, no. 1321
Commentary: Among the enormous output of imperial porcelain snuff bottles of the Daoguang period there are several designs that include four-clawed dragons rather than the five-clawed imperial beast. The four-clawed dragon (mang) was the emblem of the three highest degrees of nobility gong (duke), hou (marquis), or bo (earl). These four-clawed beasts appear on imperial porcelain bottles otherwise indistinguishable from five-clawed imperial creatures gracing bottles made at the imperial kilns. They are of the same range of shapes, have the same enamels, are painted in the same style, and bear the same marks as other bottles made for the emperor. The implication is clear: they were produced for the court, to be distributed to such nobles as gifts from the emperor to mark special occasions, including, perhaps, their elevation to the nobility if they were previously commoners.
On one of the standard forms for imperial production from the reign, this is one of the most striking of dragon designs. While the composition is not unusual, the colour scheme is, with the black dragon detailed in green and ruby-pink and clutching an iron-red pearl to match its tongue. As a rule, iron-red and ruby-pink do not go well together, but in this case, with the strength of the intervening black separating the two, it works strikingly well, and the strongly contrasting colours bring unusual presence and brilliance to the design.
Atop this bottle is a rare and lovely early stopper with a turquoise cabochon carved with the ubiquitous chi dragon replacing the standard coral one. It has worn, as turquoise will with constant use, and is patinated to a lovely, rich green colour that fortuitously matches the mane of the dragon. Like any old and appropriate stopper, it makes an enormous difference to the overall work of art.
For another of similar design and colouring, but without the protruding footrim, see Sotheby's, London, 11 October 1974, lot 132, and for one with the foot, Sotheby's, London, 21 June 1995, lot 145.