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Jar

Unknown maker. 

Chinese, mark and period of Chia Ching (1522-1566)

Hard-paste porcelain decorated in underglaze blue with dragons

Height 51cm x 53 cm diameter

C.11-1975

 

According to James Lin, Senior Assistant Keeper for the Asian collections at The Fitzwillliam Museum, images of dragons appeared in Chinese art long before the unification of China in 221 BC. The Chinese dragon is a creature made up of bits from lots of different animals; antlers like a stag; the head of a crocodile; the neck like a snake; scales of a carp (large fish), the paws of a tiger; and claws of a hawk. These different features indicate the dragon was very powerful.

Chinese dragons are nearly always associated with water and weather (represented as clouds) as shown on this large jar. Water and weather are vital elements for agriculture to help things grow and so dragons are sacred to farmers. With this associated power and strength they became a symbol of power and good fortune throughout China.   

Over time dragons gradually became the symbol of the ruler. Dragons with five claws show the privilege of the emperor and the rest of royal family members. The rest of the population can only use dragons with four claws in their decorations. 

This dragon jar is one of the largest ones produced in the imperial kiln during the reign of Emperor Jiajing (r. 1522-66). We know this as there is a six-character imperial reign mark written on the neck of this jar. At the time this was made, it was very difficult to make a large jar like this due to the limited size of kilns and the great skill needed to control the firing temperature and glaze. As a result many imperfect ones were smashed and buried. Only a few large jars survived and were sent to the court. 

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