of shallow rounded sides, thick and sturdy body with a flared everted iron-brown dressed rim, standing with the unglazed channeled foot ring, naturally decorated on overall interior of milky white glaze with underglaze wash blue in purplish tone and copper-red with a broadly scene of three deer standing beneath an old leafy pine tree growing from rock around bamboo and fungus, all looking up a pair of cranes in flight around ruyi clouds, the exterior with powder blue glaze, and the glazed base written vertically underglaze blue six characters of Kangxi reign mark.
Research & Essay
Ming reign lasted for nearly three centuries, from 1368 to 1644, in China. By the early 1600s, however, the Ming dynasty began in powerlessly rule and its government was under rampantly corruption. In Chinese political and religious doctrine, the Ming dynasty had lost the Mandate of Heaven to govern China. Moreover, in 1644 AD, Manchurian troops assaulted to seize Ming’s power with the armament of gunpowder. After a long scramble of rebellion by Manchus, the Ming dynasty finally collapsed, and a new regime, Qing dynasty, ruled in China from 1644 to 1911 AD. However, in the 1640s, chaos surrounding the Ming loyalists and Qing dynasty transition prevented many of Chinese junks from sailing at all. As Qing influence advanced in coastal areas, Chinese maritime traders founded it increasingly difficult to fit out their junks or attract travelling merchants at any Chinese ports.1).
After defeating the Ming loyalists and conquering the whole China, Qing dynasty reinforced its new regulation for Chinese people. Deriving from ethnic name “Jurchens” and later Jin Dynasty of 1115 to 1234 AD, the Qing dynasty imposed Chinese men to submit to their way of life by wearing their hair in the Manchu people’s style, with a bald forehead and long pigtail in the back. The dynasty also kept the control of the military by assigning the uppermost occupations for Manchus. However, Qing dynasty adopted resilient and generous policies to maintain and remain power in China. It showed respect for Chinese traditions. Qing reign maintained the structure of Ming government and ruled according to Confucian principles. It supported the state exam system and allowed Chinese officials to hold high positions in Qing’s government. It endorsed the values of classical Chinese culture. In this way, the Qing dynasty along with Manchus gradually won acceptance from the Chinese people.
In early 1670 AD, however, an anti-Manchu movement of the Revolt of the Three Feudatories led by a Han Chinese military General, Wu Sangui, occurred, and The Chinese porcelain from Jingdezhen kilns traded to overseas dropped dramatically. The Chinese porcelain production at Jingdezhen kiln and its trade were vacuum and substituted by Japanese porcelain manufacturers for export, where Chinese and Japanese Imari and Arita porcelains had competed for dominant position in the regional market for a long time. The riot was finally destroyed by Qing dynasty. The periods of this longstanding chaotic and civil war time that disturbed the production and trade of Chinese porcelain at Jingdezhen is so-called a Transitional Period. This Transitional Periods is generally accepted to have lasted from around 1620 to around 1670. The kilns at Jingdezhen were reopened in 1671s under the Qing dynasty, and it was the beginning of the Jingdezhen kilns dominated entirely by private kilns, and the date given is usually 1671 before the Jingdezhen was renovated in 1680 AD.
In the late 1670s, Jingdezhen produced the high quality of porcelains under the well-organized imperial’s kilns and control. The overseas customers for Chinese porcelain were taking the trade of porcelains again from China, instead of Japan. By a more peaceful condition and no constraints of trade, VOC began to contact either imperial or private kilns at Jingdezhen in the late 1670 to 1672. Dutch East India Company (VOC) in Batavia (present-today Jakarta) should submit and satisfy orders from Europeans demands living in Batavia and Europe countries. The wares were shipped by VOC merchant junks to Batavia before distributing them to Europe countries.2) The present dish is one of the imperial Chinese wares exported to Batavia and Europe countries via VOC junks in the late 17th century.
The Chinese porcelain art scholars ascertain that a large and heavily potted dish decorated in underglaze blue and copper red and also exhibiting the channeled foot like the present dish is a typical dish produced in the late 17th century of Kangxi reign. The typical dish is featured with a channeled foot that appears to have been used by the potters at Jingdezhen for a short period of time around 1670, and disappeared in the second half of the Kangxi period. In addition, the design painted in the combination of underglaze blue and copper red like the present dish were produced during early Kangxi reign, that the date given is usually 1671. The underglaze blue and red decoration technique first appeared during the Yuan dynasty and continued to be employed in the early and mid-Ming to early Kangxi reigns. It was difficult for potters to achieve the perfect and luminous result and the vessel being often diffused and dull since the firing requirements for cobalt blue and copper red are different. Though, the most successful product of underglaze blue and copper red decoration began to appear in the late Kangxi and Yongzheng reigns of Qing dynasty.3)
The design of deer and cranes itself is a genre of Chinese painting tradition devoted to depicting them in a wide range of natural landscape, including leafy pine trees fungus, bamboo and rocks like on the present piece. The style of deer around the old pine tree on the present piece probably adopted that of scroll ink painting of Bada Shanren (1626 – 1705), a famous Chinese painter of ink wash painting and a royal descendant of the lost Ming dynasty in early Qing dynasty. For example, a scroll, mounted and framed, ink on paper entitled “Stag and Pine” (161.8 x 67 cm) by Bada Shanren (1626 – 1705) was sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 25th November 2015, lot. 1065 (see fig. 1). The catalogue affirms that Pine trees, cranes and deer are recurring subject matters in Bada Shanren’s late works. The subject of deer and crane painting like on the current piece was then widely popular in later reigns, particularly painted by Shen Quan (1682 – 1762 AD). For example, a scroll ink and color on paper “Two Deer in Pine Valley” by Shen Quan (1682 – 1762 AD) is from National Museum of Korea (See fig. 2).
The image of deer was also popularly depicted on Japanese wares that became Chinese porcelain’s rival in 17th and 18th centuries. John Ayers, Oliver Impey and J.V.G Mallet argue that because Japanese ceramics, in particular the unique designed and drawn one in the 1670s, had grown so popular within Europe, including the Dutch, that Europeans started purchasing them from southern Chinese sources, as evidenced by the collections found in UK, Germany and France in addition to Ducts. This argument is taken further by other scholars who attributed Chinese stylistic to emulating Japanese templates. After Ming-Qing transitional period, Chu Lung-hsing’s important essay makes the innovative argument of the important influence of Japanese ceramics images of the Dutch people on Chinese porcelain.4) Further, the design of deer and crane around pine tree and ‘Master of the Rock’ landscape like on the present dish is also frequently depicted on blue-and-white ‘Kraak’ style wares produced in the late Ming and Transitional periods. Meanwhile, underglaze blue and copper-red designs on Kangxi reign wares are frequently attributed to early Kangxi period in 1671s.
Some evidence of porcelain painted in the combination of underglaze blue and copper-red decoration having cyclical date corresponding to 1671 are survived and widely preserved in Museums and Collections. For example, a dish with flattened rim decorated in underglaze cobalt blue and underglaze copper red with different decorative scheme, inscribed with a Zhonghetang mark dating to 1671, from Percival David Foundation.5). Another, painted in underglaze blue-and-red dish with a landscape decoration inscribed with Zhonghetang mark and dated 1672 AD from Shanghai Museum (see fig. 3).6) The samples of underglaze-blue and copper-red vessels inscribed with Kangxi reign mark in different design dated to early Kangxi period (1670 – 1673) are also found in the market and they are sought-after by collectors. Compare with a floral spray decoration basin in underglaze-blue and copper-red, unmarked and dated to 1670 (36.2 cm in size) sold at Christie’s New York, 16th March 2015, lot. 3580, for US$ 62,500, initially estimated between US$ 20,000 – US$ 30,000 (see fig. 4). Compare with a pair of copper red-decorated blue and white vases in similar subject ‘deer under old pine tree’, dated to 18th century (40 cm and 40.3 cm in height), sold at Christie’s New York, 20th September 2013, lot. 1313, for US$ 1,143,750, initially estimated between US$ 15,000 – US$ 20,000 (see fig. 5). The similar design but with different scheme is also found on blue and white wares of Kangxi reign. For example, a blue and white yen yen vase depicted with similar pattern ‘deer and crane around pine tree’ was included in the Gardiner Museum of Chinese Art.7) Another is from the Collection of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.8). Also, compare with the deer esign on blue and white ‘phoenix tail’ vase (45.8 cm in height), dated Kangxi period, sold at Christie’s London, 8th November 2011, lot. 380, for GBP 32,450, initially estimated between GBP 15,000 – GBP 20,000 (see fig. 6).
Like some of late Ming and transitional wares commonly, the present dish has an iron-brown dressed lip that not only partly to hide the flaw but also to evoke the texture of metal, which enhanced the status of the ceramic vessels. The present dish drawing is unmistakably in Kangxi style, with finer brushwork elaborated in greater detail than in the preceding reign. Moreover, ‘Master of the Rocks Style Porcelain’ on milky white glaze is usually dated to the late transitional or Early Kangxi period. During the transitional and Early Kangxi eras, motifs derived from nature, including plants, animals, figures and emblem of a good fortune or longevity was commonly found.
Painted in underglaze blue and copper red with exquisitely design of deer and cranes around the evergreen pine tree and ‘Master Rock’ design, the present dish has more sacred meaning for religious patrons. Robert Beer discusses that deer, cranes, and pine trees began to appear in Tibetan art from the eighteen century onward as cultural motifs and were assimilated from Chinese art. The evergreen pine is also traditionally represented with the deer and crane as triple symbols of longevity. While the immutable rock of longevity is an auspiciously shaped rock formation, whose geomantic property is believed to be extremely beneficial to mankind.9) Indeed, the present ‘immortality dish’ was highly interest of Emperor Kangxi. There is no secret that Kangxi was extremely fond of Buddhism. The emperor had been honored as the ‘Buddha-Hearted Son of Heaven’ (foxing tainzhi), even though he was also a Neo-Confucian ideology patron by issuing the edict of Sacred Edict 聖諭 (Sheng Yu) or ‘The Sixteen Maxims’ to highly esteem the life moral of China society during his early reign in 1670.
Nola Cooke, Tana Li and James A (ed), The Tongking Gulf Through History, University of Pennsylvania Press, USA, 2011, p. 120.
Jan Wirgin, Selected Objects from Swedish Collections, Bulletin No.46, The Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities (Östasiatica Museet), Stockholm, 1974, p. 67.
Wang Qingzheng, A Dictionary of Chinese Ceramics, Shanghai Museum, Shanghai, China, 2002, p. 238.
Tai Wei Lim, Fired Clay in Four Porcelain Clusters: A Comparative Study of Energy Use, Production/Environmental Ecology, and Kiln Development in Arita, Hong Kong, Jingdezhen, and Yingge, University Press of America Inc, UK, 2014, pp. 17 – 18.