Jiajing reign: An Exceptional Wucai ‘Hundred Boys at Play’ Jar.

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DESCRIPTION.

of compressed globular form, a short straight neck, and  rounded shoulders tapering to a slightly foot, accompanied with a flat cover in a short straight fitting over the neck of the jar, exquisitely painted in different effect of underglaze cobalt-blue in soft purplish tone combined with iron-red, yellow, pink, brown and emerald green enamels with lively different pictorial of “hundred boys” or wawa at freely play in continuous garden landscape, the first group in feign procession with a boy ‘attendant’ using a leaf parasol shading a boy riding a wagon as an official behind a boy dragging it, escorted by another boys on the sides; at the second, two seated boys depicted in playing xiangqi (Chinese chess), watched by a spectator standing in instructing a player surrounding the garden and fence; finally, two boys playing a cricket “ququ”, both of them holding a stick watched by another as a spectator; around the shoulder adorned with four bracket panels framing a stalk of peach fruit, chrysanthemum, daylilies and peony flowers between diamond diaper border, and around the above foot with lotus petals pattern; each section from the neck to its above foot bordered by underglaze blue double lines; its top of flat cover adorned with a boy dancing around the landscape on double underglaze blue circled lines, with “S” patterns around the sides; the underglaze blue eight Chinese characters reading “jia jing qin fu dian shan suo zao” (Jiajing emperor made for the provisioning affairs office of the Qin residence) shown on the shoulder, the unglazed base with brownish-color and marked with radial wheel of the kiln.

RESEARCH & ESSAY.

The designs of the present jar is well-executed and applied showing soft purplish tone or violet blue, accompanied with faint and mellow iron-oxide red, yellow, pink, brown and emerald-green  enamels. Each color is applied in equal proportion, with no single-color dominating, which all are the characteristics of Jiajing’s wucai wares. The uneven soft purplish tone or violet blue of the present jar shows that the local blue pigment from Leping was mixed with the imported cobalt graded according to the proportion so that the blue appears almost violet in color with the effect of different tone. In addition, the form of the present ja shows its rarity in its contemporaneous era. Not like other Ming of Jiajing jar form, this globular-shaped jar fits with its flat cover without knop finial. This jar form probably was modelled after globular-formed gray pottery jar and cover of Eastern Han dynasty (25 – 220 AD), and it was continued by later reigns that was popularly in doucai jar-shaped wares produced in the Ming of Chenghua reign (1465-1487 AD). In the late Ming era of Jiajing period, the potters often strived to emulate forms and decoration from earlier periods.

Interestingly, the current jar is inscribed with an unusual eight-mark character of Jiajing reign of Ming dynasty. The mark on this vessel reading “jia jing qin fu dian shan suo zao” is highly valued mark on imperial Jiajing wares of Ming dynasty in particular executed by imperial’s workshop patron at Jingdezhen. Gerald Davison in The New & Revised Handbook of Marks on Chinese Ceramics, United Kingdom, 2013, p. 190, no. 2687 discusses that “jia jing qin fu dian shan suo zao” refers to Jiajing porcelain made for the provisioning affairs office of the Qin residence of Jiajing reign. Thus, this mark testifies that the present jar was produced by an imperial workshop partner under the guan da min shao (Government order people fire) system, where it was particularly made for Jiajing emperor’s interest and order. This highly valued mark was accustomed to making the luxury wares commissioned by Jiajing emperor for credited kilns to use official court marks of Jiajing emperor.

In the Jiajing reign, the mercantile and craft industries flourished. The imperial provided leeway of porcelain production to independent factories in assisting the imperial factory to meet the global demands. Nancy Eickle (ed) in Ars Oriental 40, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, 2011, pp. 53 – 54 discusses that during the Jiajing period (1522 – 1560), government restriction eased, and as a result, the difference in decoration and quality between imperial and civilian wares became blurred. This situation was mainly due to the introduction of a new government system of manufacturing imperial wares in private kilns, called guanda minshao (private firing of official [wares]). Under this system, a number of civilian kilns were subcontracted by the Jingdezhen imperial kilns to assist in the production of official porcelains. Because the court often placed enormous rush order, the official kilns had no choice but to allocate part of the workload to local civilian kilns as a way of fulfilling the demand. This system, which continued into the Qing dynasty, was an important factor in raising the status of private kilns and improving the quality of their products, which had a profound on the stylistic development of both imperial and private wares. Stacey Pierson in From Object to Concept: Global Consumption and the Transformation of Ming Porcelain, Hong Kong University Press, 2013, pp. 9 – 13 also discusses that this system of contracting out production was known as guanda minshao 官搭民 烧 (Official partnership with private kilns) and was introduced in the 16th century. The other interpretation of reign marks is that they designated time: The reign titles of emperors, and the written characters of the Chinese language that embody them, may well be the most widely understood pieces of Ming Chinese outside the Chinese speaking world. Apart from one interesting fact: in the National Palace Museum in Taiwan is a yellow-glazed ‘archaistic’ porcelain ding vessel which is signed, ‘Made by Zhou Danquan 周丹泉制, a well-known potter from a private kiln at Jingdezhen. This form of signature is unusual in Ming ceramics, as we have seen, because very few ‘signed’ Ming-period ceramics survive. Most of those with what are assumed to be ‘names’ actually have imperial reign marks, which are of course anonymous in their identification.

The theme and images of Hundred Children freely at play (baizi) in a garden emerged as new topic in the paintings of the Song dynasty (960–1279 AD), particularly those of Hundred Children at play by the Academic painter, Su Hanchen (1094-1172 AD). For example, he executed a hanging scroll, in and colors on silk entitled ‘Children Playing in a Palace Garden’ from Metropolitan Museum of Art, published and illustrated in Beyond Representation: Chinese Painting and Calligraphy, 8th – 14th Centuries, Wen C. Fong, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1992), pl. 64, p. 296 (see fig. 1). The theme then continued to be a favorite among artists and craftsmen of the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) dynasties on a wide range of decorative objects, including porcelains. The design of boys playing together on the present vessel is rich in symbolism and was particularly popular during the Jiajing period. Children (zi 子) image is a good luck symbol and connected with “Four Happiness Boys” that the newlyweds will have many children. The design of pictorial Hundred Children in blue-and-white porcelain jar of Jiajing reign, like on the present jar, probably emulates blue-and-white bowl dated to Yongle period (1403-1424 AD). For example, a blue-and-white bowl decorated with Hundred Children at play theme like on the current jar format from Tianminlou Collection, is published and illustrated in Chinese Porcelain, the S.C. Ko Tianminlou CollectionHong Kong Museum of Art, Volume 2, Hin-Cheung Lovell (Ed), Hong Kong Museum of Art, 1987, catalogue no. 15 (see fig. 2). In preceding version, it is also known from examples of Chenghua (1465-1487 AD) blue-and-white bowls with four different designs of boys at play that was excavated from the latest Chenghua stratum, illustrated in The Emperor’s broken china. Reconstructing Chenghua porcelain, Sotheby’s, London, 1995, cat. nos. 54-7.

In the Jiajing reign (1522–1566 AD), the prototypes from earlier reigns were often emulated and refined, and ‘Hundred Children’ theme like on the current piece was commonly produced and now it can be found on many types of wares including bowls, jars, boxes and vases. Although porcelains painted in wucai colors, iron-red, yellow, turquoise, with brown-outlined enamels used with underglaze blue color reached maturity in the Jiajing reign (1522–1566 AD), the theme of Hundred Children at play like on current vessel is popularly painted in blue-and-white. For example, a blue-and-white jar with knop finial on its cover in similar format with different arrangement from the British Museum and previously from the Mrs. Alfred-Clark Collection, is published and illustrated in Ceramics in the British Museum, Harrison-Hall, London, 2001, p. 238, cat. no. 9:50 (see fig. 3). The author also discusses on page 212 that there were some semi-independent kilns in Jiajing era. Some of these semi-independent or private kilns were vast, capable of firing up to a thousand items at a time. The number of semi-independent or private kilns mushroomed. At the beginning of the sixteenth century, there were about twenty private kilns, and by the close of the century, there were three hundred firing ceramics. They mostly completed thousands of blue-and-white wares. These semi-independent factories, to some extent, sacrificed quality to quantity. They completed official orders from the emperor, used in household and temples, to present the gifts or in exchange for foreign tribute. They also made ceramics for sale globally and for the vast domestic market. The use of marks became more widespread at this time possibly as kilns were accustomed to making wares with official court marks.

The other blue-and-white jars related to Hundred Children design of Jiajing period are also recorded in the renowned museums and private collections. Compare to a jar illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Blue and White Porcelain with Underglaze Red (II), Hong Kong, 2000, Catalogue, no.101 (with a cover); another from the Capital Museum, Beijing, was excavated in 1980 from the Zhaoyang district, Beijing, Wenwu, 1982:9, pl.8:2; another without covers from important collections are illustrated in Chinese Ceramics in the Idemitsu Collection, Tokyo, 1987, Catalogue, no.191, and in the Museum of Decorative Art, Copenhagen, illustrated by D.Lion-Goldschmidt in Ming Porcelain, London, 1978, pl.124; another without their covers are published: the first in the Osaka Museum is illustrated in Ming and Qing Ceramics and Works of Art, no. 159, p. 20; second in Chinese Ceramics in the Idemitsu Collection, pl. 191; and third in the Fengchengxian Museum, Jiangxi province, is illustrated in Zhongguo Wenwu Jinghua Da Cidian, no. 766, p. 393. Further, compare to a blue-and-white jar depicting with ‘Hundred Children’ at play, sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 27th November 2007, lot. 1738, for HKD 30,567,500, initially estimated on request (see fig. 4); compare to another (38.8 cm in height) from Christie’s London, 8 June 1987, lot 151, and it was sold at Bonhams London, 10th November 2011, lot. 106, estimated between GBP 300,000 – GBP 500,000 (see fig. 5).

Jiajing blue-and-white jars decorated with ‘Hundred Children’ at play are executed in wide range of style, arrangement and narration, but still in similar ‘Hundred Children’ theme. Compare with similar blue-and-white examples of this pattern from the Freer Gallery of Art, is illustrated in Oriental Ceramics, vol. 9, Kodansha series, 1975, no. 111 (see fig. 6); another from collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei, is illustrated in Blue and White Ware of the Ming Dynasty, vol. V, pl. 13, pp. 46-47. Compare with similar theme and narration of this pattern, sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 27th May 2009, lot. Lot 1809, for HKD 11,860,000 based on  an estimate on request (see fig. 7). Compare with blue-and-white jar in similar theme from S. Marchant and Son, illustrated in Ming Blue and White, Jiajing-Chongzhen Including Dated Examples, November 2004, Cat., no.4, sold at Sotheby’s London, 9th November 2011, lot. 164 (see fig. 8). The current jar is a valuable example of the monumental masterpieces of Ming-Jiajing imperial wucai porcelain that was visibly commissioned by the Jiajing Emperor (1522 – 1566) through a reliable and talented artist from imperial partner factory. The theme of Hundred Children at play on wucai wares, like the current piece, is rarely published. No other similar wucai jar meticulously drawn like the current piece survives. Yet, there are few other wucai Jiajing-marked jars of Hundred Children design which appear to have been published. Compare with Jiajing-marked wucai ‘Boys’ jar sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 31st October 2004, lot 113, and sold again at Christie’s Hong Kong, 27th November 2017, lot. 8005, for HKD 4,420,000, initially estimated between HKD 2,000,000 – HKD 3,000,000 (see fig. 9). The lot notes that only two other Jiajing-marked jars of this design appear to have been published, one from the Lauritzen collection is illustrated by Osvald Siren, Kinas konst under tre årtusenden, vol. 2, Stockholm, 1942, fig. 543, which has a reduced neck; and the second was formerly in the collections of A.T. and Montague L. Meyer, sold at Sotheby’s London, 10 July 1951, lot 84, and again 17 February 1959, lot 92, from the Kolkhorst Collection, and then again 14 April 1970, lot 92.

The diverse colorful wucai ‘Hundred Children’ jars were also developed by the private kilns at Jingdezhen even during the Wanili reign (1573 – 1620) of Ming dynasty in increased more variety of styles. For example, compare a smaller wucai ‘Boys’ jar (12.7 cm), unmarked and dated to Wanli period, from Christie’s Hong Kong, 20th March 1990, lot 543, and it was then sold at Sotheby’s London, 16th May 2018, lot. 137 for GBP 12,500, initially estimated between GBP 10,000 – GBP 15,000 (see fig. 10).

The wucai jar ‘Hundred Boys at Play’ with exceptional Jiajing reign mark like on the present piece is exceptional and extremely rare, although other extant blue-and-white examples largely can be found in important museums and private collections. The current jar is a masterpiece work from the most renowned official partner kiln under imperial patronage that probably responded to the Jiajing Emperor’s demand and privileged direction to satisfy himself and his imperial wives’ desire for fertility, wealth, and happiness. It also reflects the emperor’s and his imperial wives’ personal appetite to embody ‘the hundred sons’ as his throne heir. With highly quality and exclusiveness of design compared to that of other wucai porcelains of Jiajing period, the present could be a commissioned piece from the emperor as an imperial piece or tribute of Jiajing reign.

Citation:

  1. The New & Revised Handbook of Marks on Chinese Ceramics, Gerald Davison. United Kingdom, 2013, p. 190, no. 2687.

  2. Ars Oriental 40, Nancy Eickle (ed), Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, 2011, pp. 53 – 54.

  3. From Object to Concept: Global Consumption and the Transformation of Ming Porcelain, Stacey Pierson, Hong Kong University Press, 2013, 9 – 13.

  4. Beyond Representation: Chinese Painting and Calligraphy, 8th – 14th Centuries, Wen C. Fong, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1992), pl. 64, p. 296.

  5. Chinese Porcelain, the S.C. Ko Tianminlou Collection: Hong Kong Museum of Art, Volume 2, Hin-Cheung Lovell (Ed), Hong Kong Museum of Art, 1987, catalogue no. 15.

  6. The Emperor’s broken china. Reconstructing Chenghua porcelain, Sotheby’s, London, 1995, cat. nos. 54-7.

  7. The Emperor’s broken china. Reconstructing Chenghua porcelain, Sotheby’s, London, 1995, cat. nos. 54-7.

  8. The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Blue and White Porcelain with Underglaze Red (II), Hong Kong, 2000, Catalogue, no.101.

  9. Beijing, Wenwu, 1982:9, pl.8:2.

  10. Ming Porcelain, D.Lion-Goldschmidt London, 1978, pl.124.

  11. Ming and Qing Ceramics and Works of Art, no. 159, p. 20.

  12. Zhongguo Wenwu Jinghua Da Cidian, no. 766, p. 393.

  13. Oriental Ceramics, vol. 9, Kodansha series, 1975, no. 111.

  14. Blue and White Ware of the Ming Dynasty, vol. V, pl. 13, pp. 46-47.

  15. Ming Blue and White, Jiajing-Chongzhen Including Dated Examples, November 2004, Cat., no.4,

  16. Osvald Siren, Kinas konst under tre årtusenden, vol. 2, Stockholm, 1942, fig. 543.

CATALOGUE ENTRY.

Jiajing Reign