Last week, we noted in our feature on five/nine dragon chargers that in an upcoming auction in Sweden there would be offered a Quianlong charger based on the much earlier classic Ming design. We have now learned from one of our readers, and from the catalogue issued by the auctioneers, that the charger coming up at Uppsala Auktions in Sweden enjoys a most interesting provenance from the renowned Nobel family:
Apparently, it was the property of Rolf Nobel (1882-1947), who most likely received it from his elder brother Emanuel Nobel (1859-1932). Rolf and Emanuel were both nephews of Alfred Nobel, founder of the Nobel Prize Award. Thence it came by descent to Rolf Nobel’s son Viktor Nobel (1919-2014), and thence to the present owner.
Emanuel Nobel led the Nobel companies in Russia and was the President of BraNobel in Russia after his father Ludvig died. He was one of Carl Fabergés most important clients, besides the Russian Tsar and family. Uppsala Auctions have published a well researched piece, as well you might do with a lot estimated at around 100,000 euros.
The nine-dragon design on this charger is after a Xuande prototype, where dishes were painted with a side-facing five-clawed dragon amongst crashing waves in the centre, the cavetto decorated with three dragons striding amid clouds. An example of the original Xuande dish, excavated at the waste heap of the Ming Imperial Kilns in Zhushan, was included in the exhibition, Xuande Imperial Kiln Excavated at Jingdezhen, Chang Foundation, Taipei, 1998, cat. no. 87.
Another Xuande example with four dragons around the cavetto is illustrated in The Complete Treasures of the Palace Museum, vol. 34 Blue and White (1) Porcelain With Underglaze Red.
On the charger offered for sale, the central side-facing dragon of the Xuande prototype has been replaced with a dragon en face. The vivacity of the central dragon depicted here is characteristic of the Qing dynasty portrayal of the Imperial dragon, which compared to the Ming dragon, is ever more boldly detailed and defined in its facial features and more elaborately represented in its general ferocity and mythological power.
The use of red heightens the contrast between the crashing waves of the background and that of the dragons, whilst heightening the scene with further auspicious meaning. The Qing craftsmen have added the crested rolling wave band encircling the rim of the dish which completes the design, an element that was not necessary for the smaller Ming dishes.
Early Qing rulers, particularly Qianlong, liked to see their old masterpieces of ancient designs and glazes re-interpreted, using the skills and technology available during their reigns as a way of celebrating China’s glorious past.
Dishes of this type were favoured both by the Qianlong emperor, and his predecessor the emperor Yongzheng, who first commissioned the making of these particular magnificent and impressive “red dragon” chargers. They represent a powerful re-interpretation indeed. These dishes would have been used at Imperial banquets, undoubtedly both to impress and to add a feeling of grandeur to the occasion.
A Qianlong example of the red dragon dish can be seen in the Nanjing Museum and was included in the exhibition, Qing Imperial Porcelain of the Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong Reigns, Art Gallery, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 1995, cat. no. 81. This red dragon dish was also illustrated on the front cover of the catalogue.
Another Qianlong dish of this magnificent and formidable size was exhibited in Sweden in 1995 in Gothenburg at Röhsska Museet on loan from the Shanghai museum and can be seen in the exhibition catalogue, Ancient Chinese Art from the Shanghai Museum, no. 61, page 63.
For a very similar Qianlong example of this dish see Sotheby’s, May 15th 1990, lot 207. This dish is further illustrated in the catalogue Sotheby’s Hong Kong, Twenty Years, 1973 to 1993, celebrating the highlights of objects sold through them.
Further examples, one from the Qianlong period and one from the Yongzheng period are illustrated in Min Shin no bijutsu [Ming and Qing art], Tokyo, 1982, pls. 154 and 172.
Another dish from the Yongzheng period is in The Palace Museum, Beijing and is published in The Complete Collection of Treasues of the Palace Museum, Blue and White Porcelain and under glazed Red, vol. 3, Hong Kong, 2000, pl. 223; another in the Meiyintang collection published in Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, London, 1994-2010, vol.4, no.1723. In this book work Krahl writes about the technical achievement that allowed for such grand objects to be made during this period.