Yongle reign: A Fine Blue-and-White ‘Peony Blooms’ Dish

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DESCRIPTION.

The dish is finely potted and rounded sides with everted rim standing on an edge-cut foot ring, painted  in  vibrant  sapphire-blue  tones  exhibiting  rust  spots  in  places  with  a  large flowering peony spray borne on a leafy stem enclosed within double lines on the center, surrounded by six fruiting spray around the cavetto comprising of pomegranate, loquat, cherry, persimmon, peach and lychee, the exterior decorated with an undulating chrysanthemum scroll, the unglazed base showing a slightly orange burnt in the kiln.

RESEARCH & ESSAY.

Under the early Ming periods, Yongle (1402-1424) to Xuande (1426-1435) reigns, the designs escalation of underglaze blue wares was marked with its vibrant tones resuming the preceding reign, Yuan dynasty. Like the current early Ming dish, the design of Ming of Yongle blue-and-white ware was boldly applied in vivid and dark-blue pigment, and the cobalt ore was exhibited thickly applied under the glaze appearing a metallic a blackish spot, where it was probably in cake form. The cobalt oxide on the present dish to be painted on the designs then coated with a clear glaze onto the porcelain seems to have been invented in Persia during the ninth century before, which is the main trademark of blue and white porcelains of early Ming periods.

The floral and sprays of flowers design on the present dish represents the ‘flower of the four seasons’, and this theme reflects the artistic preferences of the early 15th century during the Ming of Yongle and Xuande reigns. In China culture, each flower has its unique traditional meaning and purpose. Peony is particularly appreciated for the symbolic meaning of the color in the Chinese tradition, which it is believed to be the flower of honor and riches. Designed in spray and full bloom, the spray of peony design on the current dish embodies the emblem of spring and symbolic of love and affection, feminine beauty and romance, omen of good fortune, honor and happy conjugal besides of the third month in the lunar calendar representation.

Floral motif elements, including peony, camelia flower, prunus plant, fruiting spray and are prominently displayed throughout the early Ming blue-and-white porcelain history. The current dish is depicted with two large peony blooms on the center and six fruit sprays on the cavetto executed in graded shades of cobalt blue that demonstrates natural plentiful beauty, and aesthetically creating a truly exciting and lively visual effect against the white background glaze. The peony motif was a major factor in blue-and-white wares decoration with a wide range of different style and composition in the early years of the fifteenth century.

Xuande Emperor (1426 – 1435) took his personal interest in porcelain arts. He continued to revive the practice and tradition of porcelain art  including the designs and styles that had been applied by his grandfather, the Yongle Emperor (1402-1424). In these early Ming periods, porcelains decorated with plant motifs, including flowers (peony, lotus, and chrysanthemum) and fruits predominated. Most of Xuande wares are inscribed with his reign mark; nevertheless, the pieces without his reign mark do exist.  This is why the early Ming porcelains without inscribing the Yongle or Xuande reign mark are usually attributed to Yongle period. The present dish painted in bright underglaze blue color is a group of the fine flower spray of Jingdezhen blue-and-white porcelain produced in the early Ming period, where it was much revived by the later reign, Xuande reign, with variety of glaze colors. Peony spray like the design on the current dish is a rare early Ming example that is published, but there are three similar examples to the current design that were excavated from the imperial kiln site in China. See the similar ‘peony’ design dishes including fruit sprays on the interior and eight chrysanthemums scroll around the outside painted in the cobalt-blue on white, in iron-brown on white, and in cobalt-blue against a yellow background from the imperial kiln site, illustrated and published in the exhibition Jingdezhen chutu Ming Xuande guanyao ciqi/Xuande Imperial Porcelain Excavated at Jingdezhen, Chang Foundation, Taipei, 1998, cat. nos 85-1 to 85-3. (See fig. 1 – 3). The specimens of large Xuande dish (38.7 cm) with similar peony design but in iron red on white ground and underglazed blue on a yellow ground were also recovered from the imperial kiln at Jingdezhen, published and illustrated in Ming Official Wares, a Survey of Chinese Ceramics (4), Liu Liang-yu, Taipei, 1991, pp. 69 – 73.

Dishes of early Ming decorated with the present type of motif are were executed in incised technique against monochrome ground, including rich cobalt blue and café-au-lait. See an similar design to the current dish design but being executed with the subtle incised designs featuring peony against a rich cobalt blue ground from Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka, inscribed with Ming of Xuande reign, which the dish has been designated an Important Cultural Property by the Japanese authorities, illustrated in Masterpieces of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka, 1990, p. 71, no. 46; the dish was republished and illustrated in Sekai tōji zenshū/Ceramic Art of the World, vol. 14, Tokyo, 1976, col. pl. 30; and was included in Chūgoku no tōji/Special Exhibition of Chinese Ceramics, Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, 1994, cat. no. 267. The second dish is illustrated in Ming Qing ciqi jianding, Geng Baochang Beijing, 1988, p. 64, fig. 111; the third is a pale café-au-lait colour dish from the Shanghai Museum, illustrated in Shanghai Bowuguan zangpin yanjiu daxi/Studies of the Shanghai Museum Collections: A Series of Monographs. Mingdai guanyao ciqi [Ming imperial porcelain], Lu Minghua, Shanghai, 2007, pl. 3-50. Compare with a similar design finely incised and reserved against a rich ‘royal blue’ glaze dish from Sotheby’s New York, 15th March 2017, lot. 6, for USD 2,172,500, initially estimated between USD 1,000,000 – USD 1,500,000 (See fig. 4).

Citation:

  1. Excavated at Jingdezhen, Chang Foundation, Taipei, 1998, ca nos 85-1 to 85-3.

  2. Ming Official Wares, a Survey of Chinese Ceramics (4), Liu Liang-yu, Taipei, 1991, pp. 69 – 73.

  3. Masterpieces of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka, 1990, p. 71, no. 46;

  4. Sekai tōji zenshū/Ceramic Art of the World, vo 14, Tokyo, 1976, col. pl. 30.

  5. Chūgoku no tōji/Special Exhibition of Chinese Ceramics, Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, 1994, ca no. 267.

  6. Ming Qing ciqi jianding, Geng Baochang Beijing, 1988, p. 64, fig. 11

  7. Shanghai Bowuguan zangpin yanjiu daxi/Studies of the Shanghai Museum Collections: A Series of Monograph Mingdai guanyao ciqi [Ming imperial porcelain], Lu Minghua, Shanghai, 2007, pl. 3-50

CATALOGUE ENTRY.

Yongle Reign