The inside is decorated with a five-clawed aubergine dragon whose scales are incised under the glaze, amidst clouds and flames in pursuit of a flaming pearl. The well and the exterior are encircled by two further striding dragons all decorated in aubergine reserved against a green ground. The reverse bears on a white plain glazed ground a cobalt blue underglazed 6 characters imperial Kangxi mark (1662-1722) in standard script (kaishu) inside an underglaze double blue ring.
The green and the aubergine glazes of this large and magnificent dish have been perfectly fired and are very transparent, shiny, with a moderate wear, however clearly noticeable to the naked eye and commensurate with the age. The color of the green is slightly greener in the tone of green leaves and not as emerald green as it appears on some of the pictures. Some discreet scratches are also noticeable from close view but not having an impact on the aesthetic of the object. At first view the dish shows itself as a bright gem with no defect. A very close examination allows however to distinguish a very small hairline to the border of the rim of 1,8 cm and slightly yellowish at the border area itself. There are two other hardly visible glaze hairlines of 2 cm and 1,3cm in the interior border rim, one of them crossing the exterior side on 1 cm. These 3 very minor faults seem to have been primarily glaze hairlines as the green glaze, a very difficult enamel to be fired without oxygen at around 2200 ° F, is very vitreous and has the main qualities but also same defects of the glass itself. That is why it often shows some faint crackles here and there, which on this dish are hardly visible but do exist sporadically under microscopic view.
This tenderness and glassy effect is very common on the early Qing dynasty glazes and the green glaze was the most tender and fragile of all, one of the reason also probably why the following reigns did not really continue its production except on small areas of painting on ceramics (see the famous Famille verte) or smaller and more controllable items such as bowls. It is actually a great chance that though having such a heavy body and such thin borders, this large dish – also to be called a charger by its size - could have crossed the centuries and arrive in this almost pristine condition.
It is commonly admitted from an imperial edict from the Qianlong reign, long after therefore the firing to this dish, that the combination of 5 clawed imperial dragons in aubergine glaze over a green ground glaze was intended for the use of the concubines of the fifth rank of the Emperor (called "guiren" in Chinese). However this regulation document is far posterior to our dish, and under the reign of Emperor Kangxi, the grandfather of Emperor Qianlong, it is only possible to state that this kind of pattern was part of the canonic schemes for the official wares (guanyao), that is to say made to be used at the Palace.
As a further proof of this imperial origin and use, a similar dish can be found in the Palace Museum, Beijing, and is illustrated in Miscellaneous Enamelled Porcelains Plain Tricoloured Porcelains, The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Shanghai, 2009, no. 128.
Another dish is illustrated by Yang Boda in The Tsui Museum of Art. Chinese Ceramics IV; Qing Dynasty, Hong Kong, 1995, no. 115; and another is illustrated in The S. C. Ko Tianminlou Collection, Part II, Hong Kong, 1987, p. 132, no. 87; and a third is illustrated in Treasures in the Royalty: The Official Kiln Porcelain of the Chinese Qing Dynasty, Shanghai, 2003, p. 74. Also compare to a similar dish exhibited in the Art Gallery, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Qing Imperial Porcelain of the Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong Reigns, Hong Kong, 1995, and illustrated in the Catalogue, no. 30.
In addition to these references coming from prestigious collections and Museums, we finally discover in the Benaki Museum in Athens the almost pendant of the present lot, which therefore could have been the pair to our dish. This dish has almost the same size, 31,3 cm and was donated by the great billionaire and collector of Chinese art George Eumorfopoulos (gift number GE 2857). There is no doubt that similar dishes can only be found in extremely scarce quantity all around the world and only in important private or museum collections, such as the famous collection of George Eumorfopoulos, the ultimate collector of Chinese Art of the 20th century.
For a similar but smaller dish, see Christie's Hong Kong, 11/26/2014, lot 3290.
3 500 €