• Artists:

    • Ukjent
    • Ming (Historical event, person, place, with affiliation)
    • Yongle (Historical event, person, place, with affiliation - assumed certain)
  • Creation date:
  • Object type: Vase

On display: Room 007 The Collection Exhibition - Blue dragons and white gold


Why has a 600-year-old vase from China been in Norway for over 100 years?

The dragon vase was made during the reign of the Yongle Emperor, between 1403–1424, during the famous Ming dynasty, a period that lasted almost 300 years (1368–1644).

The Ming dynasty is often associated with porcelain. Porcelain was made in China before and after the Ming dynasty, but it was during this period that porcelain production reached a particularly high level, both in quality and in scale. It was also during this period that Chinese porcelain became an important export commodity to Asian countries and the rest of the world. Last, but not least, it was during the Ming dynasty that porcelain began to look the way we usually see it today: white, with figurine decor in blue or other colours.

Why blue?

Before we take a closer look at the decoration, we will make a stop at the workshop: how was the vase made? First and foremost, it is important to know that porcelain is a type of ceramic. This mass of clay must first be shaped – thrown, formed, pressed or cast – before it is glazed and fired. There are several ways to decorate it. In this case the vase has been hand painted with cobalt oxide, which is a blue colour. Cobalt oxide can withstand the high firing temperature of the porcelain (1350–1400 °C) and can therefore be painted directly onto the object before it is glazed and fired. This is the main reason why blue decoration is so prevalent in Chinese porcelain. The cobalt colour was imported from Persia (now Iran) during the Yongle Emperor’s reign, and the blue painting, as it is referred to, has maintained its popularity to this day.

The dragon

The white is the colour of the porcelain clay. This is contrasted with the hand-painted blue decor with the dragon motif. The dragon is painted directly onto the vase without sketching, with certain almost black impurities in the blue colour that characterise porcelain from this early period of blue painting. The dragon winds around the vase from left to right and is surrounded by stylised lotus flowers and small curls known as "lotus scrolls".

The dragon is an imaginary creature composed of nine different animals. In China, the dragon is a symbol of good fortune and is associated with the sea and the life-giving rain. It is the symbol of the supreme power and is associated with the emperor.

There were large deliveries of porcelain to the imperial court from the city of Jingdezhen, which during the Ming dynasty became the centre of China's porcelain production. This vase was most likely made there.

Princes and kings

Does this mean that this vase was made for the emperor? Not necessarily. The dragon motif was not exclusive to the imperial court. When used for the emperor, it was common for the dragon to have five claws. As you can see, this dragon has three claws, which was reserved for imperial princes and foreign kings. Nonetheless, this is a grand and impressive vase, and we know of only four other such vases that are preserved. Regardless of who the vase was meant for, it was purchased in the 19th century by the Norwegian Iver Munthe Daae (1845–1924), who was the Director General of the Chinese Customs Service. Daae brought the vase to Norway in 1888, along with his large collection of Chinese art. The Norwegian Museum of Decorative Arts and Design in Kristiania (now Oslo) was able to purchase parts of Daae's collection, including this vase, which is one of the museum's absolute highlights.

Johanne Huitfeldt, Daae-samlingen (The Daae Collection), Norwegian Museum of Decorative Arts and Design, 1989.

Johanne Huitfeldt, "En dragevase fra Kina (A Dragon Vase from China)", in Anniken Thue, Høydepunkter - Kunstindustrimuseet i Oslo (Highlights – Norwegian Museum of Decorative Arts and Design), Oslo 1993, p. 12.

Johanne Huitfeldt, "Two Important Collections of Chinese Ceramics in Norway. The Daae and the Munthe collections", Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, London 2005–06) pp. 53–58.

John A. Pope, Chinese Porcelain in the Ardebil Collection, Tehran, 1956.

Eva Ströber, Ming! Porcelain for a Globalised Trade, Stuttgart, 2013.


Work info

Other titles:
Dragevasen (NOR)
Object type:
Materials and techniques:
Dreid og glasert porselen med håndmalt underglasurdekor
  • Height: 42.1 cm
  • Diameter: 34.8 cm
Production place:
Kjøpt 1889
Inventory no.:
Cataloguing level:
Single object
Owner and collection:
Stiftelsen Kunstindustrimuseet, The Design Collections
Larsen, Frode

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