DETAIL: Somewhere in the dim mists of ancient Chinese mythology, the dragon came to represent male virtues; and the female counterpart, the “dragon’s bride”, came to be the phoenix bird. This theme of dragon and dragon’s bride, or phoenix bird, eventually became an extremely popular motif during the Ming Dynasty (14th-17th century), especially in decorative arts such as porcelain vases, bowls, etc. Here’s a very handsome, fairly large (honeydew melon-sized), uncommon, remarkably well preserved, glazed and incised ceramic jar attributable by style to the late Yuan (or perhaps very early Ming) Dynasty of Ancient China. Glazed a quite characteristic dark brown, the carved relief areas are painted beige before being fired. If you look closely, turning the vase around slowly, you will see it to be the classical, elongated Chinese dragon.
The dragon symbolizes the Chinese people and the people from Chinese origin considered themselves, with a certain amount of pride, "descendants from the dragon". According to legend, this ancestral dragon was a creature with a deer's antlers, a camel's head, the eyes of a hare, the neck of a serpent, the teeth of a crocodile, claws of an eagle, paws like a tiger, and the ears of a buffalo. This mythical creature was capable of ascending to the heavens, and descending to the depths of the sea, and was able to morph from its dragon form into other forms.
The Chinese sign for the dragon appears during the Yin and Shang dynasties (16th to 11th centuries B.C.), the period of the earliest Chinese hieroglyphs. Inscriptions found carved into shields constructed of turtle shells depicted a horned reptile, teeth, scales and sometimes paws as well. Above the sign there's often a symbol that seems to indicate that the dragon is considered to be a violent, evil creature, the harbinger of misfortune. Archaeological sites dated from 5,000 to 6,000 B.C. have revealed that the dragon was an allegorical Chinese alligator. This mystical totem was worshipped by the Chinese for centuries. The dragon is also depicted in many forms in modern Chinese art. Ethnic and cultural minorities depict the dragon in many forms, from a fish to an alligator or human.
To ancient China, the Chinese dragon ("Lung") was a divinity capable of bringing the rains necessary for the sustenance of China's population. Throughout Chinese history the dragon has been equated with weather. It is believed by many that some of the historically worst floods were caused when mortals managed to displease a dragon. Dragons were also able to create drought, and were capable of eclipsing the sun. The dragon was also a symbol of the emperor, whose wisdom and divine power assured the well being of his subjects. Many ancient legends draw connections between the dragon and the emperor, and some emperors even claimed to have been the divine descendent of a dragon.
Although it is probable that this specimen is much older, it is also possible that this piece might be a revivalist imitative produced for the European market of the 18th or 19th century. It is widely known that Chinese porcelain and other ceramic artwork was quite popular in Victorian Europe. Carrying Chinese porcelain from China to Europe was an industry for the seafaring mariners of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. Entire fleets of sailing ships plied the trade, especially the Dutch and English. However in addition to porcelain, ancient Chinese ceramics were also extremely popular in Victorian Europe, where Chinese ceramic artwork was highly appreciated and in great demand.
Even within China, particularly during the late Ming Dynasty (16th-17th Century) there was domestic demand for copies of older styles. Although the style of this specimen is very convincing and suggests it might indeed be of Yuan Dynasty origin, a large portion of the antique/ancient Chinese ceramics in Europe date to the 18th or 19th century, so it is quite possible that this is an imitative revival piece. Judging by the style it is likely considerably older, but only a $1,000 thermoluminescence test would establish this conclusively (and even then the reliability and accuracy of such testing is still debated). So we’ll simply err on the side of being conservative and suggest that you consider it a revival piece, and if it is indeed older, so much the better. However whether an antique several centuries old, or an antiquity a few centuries older, this is a valuable and collectible piece of art.
The ceramic glaze remains almost entirely intact on this piece, though there is some slight oxidation, the surface feeling somewhat chalky rather than slick and glossy. However it is quite common for ceramic glazes to oxidize over time, it’s not necessarily considered detrimental unless it is excessive. There is very little of the typical crazing/crackling of the glaze, which so often heavily afflicts antique ceramic glazed vessels such as this. This is really in very good condition given its age and origin. It possesses the normal blemishes (warts and dimples, zits and pits) one expects with ancient handcrafted earthenware. However these are all potting blemishes the vessel was “born” with - there is no damage, no chips, no cracks, no breakage, no repairs. It is about as close to perfect as you will ordinarily find of an authentic incised glazed ceramic jar like this.
Of course realistically one would expect some blemishes of a piece this old, so there are no surprises here except that there are so few blemishes. There are a series of riblets visible, especially toward the bottom of the bowl, visible even beneath the glaze. These are the marks of the potter of course, the result of being turned on a wheel, adding character to the piece. Overall it is an exceptionally attractive piece, and extraordinarily well preserved specimen of the ancient Chinese ceramic art. If you’d like an authentic glazed ceramic vase to proudly display, you could not go wrong with this one. It is solidly shaped, nicely featured, and perfectly proportioned. It’s certainly not the ordinary jar of the era, and it is still very distinctive and handsome. Filled with dried flowers or wrapped hard candies and it would be very special. You could display this one with great pride either at work on your desk or at home. Either way, it will certainly generate curiosity and perhaps even a little envy!
HISTORY OF YUAN CERAMICS: The Mongol invasion of China led to the fall of the Song Dynasty, the rise of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368 A.D.), and a more cosmopolitan view of the world, broadening horizons and significantly altering Chinese. Important advances in porcelain techniques included underglaze porcelain; ground cobalt was mixed with water and painted on an unfired piece of porcelain. In the kiln, the blackish pigment turned a rich shade of blue, thus creating the famous tradition of blue-and-white ware. For centuries blue and white porcelain was produced not only for markets in China, but for export to the Muslim Middle East and Europe. Copper oxide was also used successfully as a decorative agent in the same way, creating the class of porcelains known as underglaze red. A growing demand for Chinese ceramics in the Middle East stimulated the Mongol rulers to boost ceramic output for export. Though the Mongol Yuan Dynasty was short-lived, it had a profound effect on the history of porcelain production for the next 600 years.
HISTORY OF THE YUAN DYNASTY: The history of the Yuan Dynasty (1275-1368 A.D.) is of Mongol rule – the first alien dynasty to rule China. By the mid-thirteenth century the Mongols under Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, had conquered North China, Korea, the Muslim kingdoms of Central Asia - even twice penetrating Europe. With the resources of a vast empire, Kublai Khan turned his ambition against the Southern Sung Dynasty, which subsequently collapsed in 1279 A.D. Under the Mongol Yuan Dynasty, the Central Asian trade routes were entirely under Mongol control and more secure than ever before. Commercially oriented infrastructure improvements encouraged overland as well as maritime commerce.
Reciprocal trade between West and East increased correspondingly, and the increased contact with Western Asia and Europe brought about an enhanced degree of cultural exchange. The cultural diversity resulted in the development of drama, written novels, and increased use of the written language. Western musical instruments were introduced enriching performing arts. Advances were realized in the fields of travel literature, cartography and geography, and scientific education. Certain key Chinese innovations, such as printing techniques, porcelain production, playing cards, and medical literature, were introduced in Europe, while the production of thin glass and cloisonne became popular in China.
The first records of travel to China by Westerners date from this time, the most famous of course by Venetian Marco Polo. The Mongols undertook extensive public works. Roads, communications, and water distribution were reorganized and improved. Granaries were ordered built throughout the empire against the possibility of famines. As the terminus of a completely renovated Grand Canal, Beijing was rebuilt with new palace grounds that included artificial lakes, hills and mountains, and parks. Nonetheless discontent grew within China as Confucian officials and scholars resented Mongol restrictions against Chinese holding important offices. Inflation and oppressive taxes alienated Chinese peasants. During the 1330’s and 1340’s crop failures, famine, and the repeated flooding of several major rivers in North China led to uprisings in almost every province, and several major rebel leaders emerged. Aided by rivalry amongst competing Mongol heirs to the thrown, in the 1360s a former Buddhist monk turned rebel army leader was successful in extending his power throughout the Yangtze Valley and eventually overthrew the Mongol Yuan Dynasty.
HISTORY OF CHINESE EARTHENWARE: The first Chinese ceramics archaeologists have found date back more than 10,000 years. These were earthenware, which means they were made from clay and fired at the kind of low temperatures reached by a wood fire or simple oven. In China, most ceramics made before the Tang dynasty (600 A.D.) are earthenware. They may be glazed or unglazed, and are occasionally painted, often brightly colored. Stoneware ceramics are harder and less porous than earthenware and are fired at hotter temperatures—between 2100°F and 2400°F. At these high temperatures, the surface of the clay melts and becomes glassy. Although stoneware is usually waterproof, most stoneware ceramics are glazed for decoration. The glazes often contain ash, which allows the glaze to harden at stoneware temperatures.
During the Shang Dynasty (1600-1100 B.C.) bronze metallurgy superceded ceramics as the favored art form of the ruling class. However both the ceramic and the bronze industries evolved into complex systems of production that were supported by the aristocracy. Decorative designs rich in symbolism were created first in bronze were then imitated in clay. Chinese burial customs included the tradition of placing clay replicas of material possessions, animals and people in the tomb to accompany the deceased and serve them in the next life. Although archaeological finds have revealed that glazed pottery was produced as early as 1100 B.C. during the Zhou dynasty, the production of glazed wares was not common until about 200 B.C. during the Han Dynasty. However from about 1000 B.C. onwards during the Shang and Zhou dynasties, primitive porcelain wares emerged. Real porcelain wares appeared in the Han dynasty around 200 A.D. In the process of porcelain development, different styles in different periods blossomed.
The production of porcelain became widespread by about 500 A.D. Using a special clay with ground rock containing feldspar, a glassy mineral, the material was fired at very high temperatures above 2400°F. The surface of the clay melts at such high temperatures and becomes smooth as glass. Early porcelains were undecorated and were used by the Imperial court and exported as far as the Middle East. For instance during the Han Dynasty principally celadon (green) and black porcelain were mainly produced. The famous blue and white porcelain was created with blue paint made from cobalt and then covered with a clear glaze, which can withstand the high temperatures of the kiln. The technical and creative innovations of Chinese potters are unique accomplishments in the cultural heritage of the world. Today, archaeological excavation and research in China are revealing new sites and new examples of the genius of the Chinese potter.
HISTORY OF CHINESE CIVILIZATION: Remains of Homo erectus, found near Beijing, have been dated back 460,000 years. Recent archaeological studies in the Yangtse River area have provided evidence of ancient cultures (and rice cultivation) flourishing more than 11,500 years ago, contrary to the conventional belief that the Yellow River area was the cradle of the Chinese civilization. The Neolithic period flourished with a multiplicity of cultures in different regions dating back to around 5000 B.C. There is strong evidence of two so-called pottery cultures, the Yang-shao culture (3950-1700 B.C.) and the Lung-shan culture (2000-1850 B.C). Written records go back more than 3,500 years, and the written history is (as is the case with Ancient Egypt) divided into dynasties, families of kings or emperors. The voluminous records kept by the ancient Chinese provide us with knowledge into their strong sense of their real and mythological origins – as well as of their neighbors.
By about 2500 B.C. the Chinese knew how to cultivate and weave silk and were trading the luxurious fabric with other nations by about 1000 B.C. The production and value of silk tell much about the advanced state of early Chinese civilization. Cultivation of silkworms required mulberry tree orchards, temperature controls and periodic feedings around the clock. More than 2,000 silkworms were required to produce one pound of silk. The Chinese also mastered spinning, dyeing and weaving silk threads into fabric. Bodies were buried with food containers and other possessions, presumably to assist the smooth passage of the dead to the next world. The relative success of ancient China can be attributed to the superiority of their ideographic written language, their technology, and their political institutions; the refinement of their artistic and intellectual creativity; and the sheer weight of their numbers.
A recurrent historical theme has been the unceasing struggle of the sedentary Chinese against the threats posed by non-Chinese peoples on the margins of their territory in the north, northeast, and northwest. China saw itself surrounded on all sides by so-called barbarian peoples whose cultures were demonstrably inferior by Chinese standards. This China-centered ("sinocentric") view of the world was still undisturbed in the nineteenth century, at the time of the first serious confrontation with the West. Of course the ancient Chinese showed a remarkable ability to absorb the people of surrounding areas into their own civilization. The process of assimilation continued over the centuries through conquest and colonization until what is now known as China Proper was brought under unified rule.
SHIPPING: These antiquities come from a number of collections which by and large originated here in Eastern Europe. As well, additional specimens are occasionally acquired from other institutions and dealers, principally in Eastern Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean. All of these artifacts are now in the United States and are available for immediate delivery via U.S. Mail. All purchases are backed by an unlimited guarantee of satisfaction and authenticity. If for any reason you are not entirely satisfied with your purchase, you may return it for a complete and immediate refund of your entire purchase price. A certificate of authenticity (COA) is available upon request.
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