Wednesday, 30 April 2014

A Langyao bottle vase

Langyao bottle vase, late Kangxi
period, with uneven, subtly
crackled copper -red glaze
and a white base. 19.1 cm tall.
One of the most famous glazes in Chinese porcelain of the Kangxi period (1661-1722) is the copper red glaze called Langyao, and named after Lang Tingji, the master of the Imperial kilns at Jingdezhen, who then became the governor of Jiangxi Province (1705-1712). The glaze was developed to imitate the lost monochrome red glaze of the Ming Xuande period. Here is another bottle vase of different shape sold by Christies in 2013.

The following description of this ware comes from R. L. Hobson, Chinese Pottery and Porcelain, 1916, Vol 2, p.124:

  1. A brilliant red varying in depth and sometimes entirely lost in places, but always red and without any of the grey or grey blue streaks which emerge on the flambe red and the modern imitations of the sang de boeuf.
  2. The faint crackle of the glaze.
  3. The stopping of the glaze under the base and in the interior of vases varied from green or buff crackle to plain white.
Base and footrim
My example has the white glazed base with just a couple of imperfections that is typical on Kangxi porcelains. The crackle is very subtle and does not show in the photograph. The tiny white specks are artifacts of the photograph and not imperfections in the glaze. The biscuit is slightly burnt brownish along the edge of the glaze on the base. The outer edge of the footrim is bevelled, after firing, to fit a stand, but this bevelling avoids the lowest drip of glaze. The shape of the vase is pear-shaped  and subtly uneven. This same shape is often seen on blue and white vases of the period. The foot rim is as smooth as well-worn marble without any grittiness to the touch.

The langyao bottle vases are never marked with the emperor's reign title, I was told, because of its connotations with the gall-bladder, blood and life ― if the name appeared and the vessel was broken, it would have been a bad omen for the emperor. The smaller than usual size might indicate that this was displayed on a scholar's desk. The white zone at the top of the vase is shorter than most that are seen and is very similar to this slightly later example of a different shape.

It was bought at a garage sale in Calgary's Chinatown by a picker who had no idea what it was. He sold it to the antique dealer from whom I purchased it. It could easily have been in Calgary since the nineteenth century. Although the secret of getting the glaze to stop just before the bottom of the foot rim has recently been rediscovered (earlier copies had the glaze ground down where it flowed right off the pot), such modern versions are actually quite expensive themselves, and do not show up in garage sales for a few dollars (the antique dealer paid the picker $130 for several pieces of porcelain including this one).

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