The impressive size of the present Longquan celadon vase, and others like it, would have made them appropriate for display purposes in a large hall or temple.
Although the Longuan celadon glaze was perfected during the Southern Song period (1127-1279), it was during the Yuan dynasty that production increased, with some 300 kilns active in the Longquan area from the Dayao, Jincun and Xikou kiln complexes in the west to those on the Ou and Songxi rivers. These rivers facilitated the transportation and distribution of the ceramics to other parts of China as well as to the ports of Quanzhou and Wenzhou, for shipment abroad. During this period, new shapes and styles of decoration were introduced, as well as vessels of impressive size. These included large dishes or chargers which appealed to the patrons of Western Asia, and large vases, such as the 'phoenix-tail' vases and large covered jars, which were appreciated by patrons in West and East Asia, especially Japan. Large Longquan celadon vases are still found in some temples in Japan including the Shomyo-ji, Engaku-ji and Kencho-ji temples, where they have been preserved since the Kamakura (1185-1333) and Muromachi (1333-1573) periods. Similar vases were also found in the cargo of the Sinan wreck, which was on its way from Ningbo to Japan in 1323, when the ship foundered off the coast of Korea. See R. Scott, Imperial Taste: Chinese Ceramics from the Percival David Foundation, Los Angeles, 1989, pp. 50-51, no. 24.
The present vase, with its monumental size, elegant shape, carved peony scroll decoration and fine, translucent sea-green glaze is very similar to the well-known Longquan celadon 'phoenix-tail' vase in the Percival David Collection, currently on loan to the British Museum. What makes the David vase unique is the dated inscription incised under the glaze around the rim of the mouth, which may be translated:
"Zhang Jincheng of the village of Wan'an at Liu mountain by the Jian river in Guacang, a humble disciple of the Precious Trinity [of Buddhism], has made a pair of large flower vases to be placed before the Buddha in the Great Dharma Hall at Juelin Temple, with [pledges for] eternal support and prayers for the blessings of good fortune and peace for his family and home. Respectfully inscribed on an auspicious day in the eighth month of dingmao, the fourth year of the Taiding period [AD 1327]."
On both the present vase and the David vase, the decoration is carved in relief, as opposed to the other popular method of decoration used at the time, that of "sprig" molding, where the decoration was molded separately and then applied to the surface before glazing. 'Phoenix-tail' vases of comparable large size with this latter type of decoration include one (72 cm.) in the Qing Court collection illustrated in The Complete Treasures of the Palace Museum - 37 - Monochrome Porcelain, Hong Kong, 1999, pp. 184-85, pl. 167; and another (72.4 cm.) in the City Art Museum, St. Louis, illustrated by Sherman Lee and Wai-Kam Ho, Chinese Art Under the Mongols: The Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368), The Cleveland Museum of Art, 1968, no. 63. Slightly smaller examples include one (63.7 cm.) in The Art Institute of Chicago, illustrated by Yutaka Mino and Katherine R. Tsiang, Ice and Green Clouds: Traditions of Chinese Celadon, Indianapolis Museum of Art, 1987, p. 200, no. 81; and the vase (63.2 cm.) from the Fujita Museum, sold at Christie's New York, 15 March 2017, lot 501.
The decoration on the present vase was produced by scraping away the ground surrounding the raised decoration which is subtly carved and rounded, rather than carved directly into the body. Other vases carved with decoration similar to that of the present vase include one (71.6 cm.) illustrated in Celadons from Longquan Kilns, Taipei, 1998, p. 176, pl. 149; and one illustrated by Regina Krahl in Chinese Ceramics in the Tokapi Saray Museum Istanbul, vol. I, Yuan and Ming Dynasty Celadon Wares, London, 1986, p. 291, pl. 209. This vase is one of two similar vases in the collection, both with a cut-down neck and now with reduced heights of 51 and 58 cm.