finely potted with deep rounded sides rising from a short tapering foot to a flared rim, superbly painted in underglaze copper-red and overglaze green, yellow and iron-red around the interior with a fine and dynamic scene depicting a pair of mandarin ducks swimming amongst lotus and reed sprays below the stiff plantain leaves within double circular panels, around rim with four carps swimming among clumps of lotus and water weeds repeated to the outside above lotus panels around the foot, the glazed base with a six-character of Yongzheng reign mark in underglaze blue within double circled lines.
RESEARCH & ESSAY.
The bowl of this charming form is modelled after the blue-and-white early Ming, Xuande (1426-1435) imperial porcelain form and they were commonly revived in later reigns during the Qing periods of eighteenth centuries. The elegant profile of the prototype is found on a blue and white ‘lotus and bajixiang’ bowl and cover, mark and period of Xuande, from Qing court collection, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Blue and White Porcelain with Underglazed Red, Shanghai, 2000, vol. 1, pl. 157 (see fig. 1). Jessica Harrison-Hall discussed in Ming Ceramics in the British Museum, London, 2001, p. 131 that such Xuande bowl forms are believed to have been used for mixing alcohol.
This mandarin ducks and fishes swimming amidst lotus ponds are also typical of the decorative style of Yuan to early Ming prototypes. For example, a blue and white ‘mandarin ducks’ bowl was recovered from the site of the Kotla Firuzshah palace in Delhi, which was destroyed in AD 1398, illustrated in Ellen Smart, ‘Fourteenth Century Chinese Porcelain from a Tughlaq Palace in Delhi’, Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, vol. 51, 1975-7, pl. 86c; and another unearthed at Puerto Galera, Philippines, published in J.M. Addis, Early Blue and White Excavated in the Philippines, Manila, 1968, pl. 24. A pair of mandarin ducks (鴛鴦) symbolize fidelity, conjugal affection, peace and prosperity, while carp (li 鲤) is one of the “Eight Buddhist symbols of good fortune”.
In the eighteenth century, the Qing dynasty frequently adopted the earlier cultured tastes and symbols in various designs for educated elites and popularized them at Qing court. The similar design to the present bowl is a dish in underglaze blue and polychrome enamels (Diam. 17.5 cm), Kangxi mark and of the period, from The Avery Brundage Collection, now is in the Asian Art Museum Chong-Moon Lee Center, San Francisco, Object Number: 2010.152 (see fig. 2). During the Yongzheng reign, the decorative styles and techniques were more developed. While no other Yongzheng underglaze copper-red associated with overglaze-enamel decoration of these form and decoration appears to have been published, but the decorative scheme of ‘Mandarin Ducks’ and ‘Carps’ are familiarly depicted on several forms of vessel and styles. See the Doucai-style dish ‘Mandarin Ducks’, Yongzheng mark and of the period, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accession Number:25.35.5, illustrated in Alfred E. Hippisley, (until 1925; his sale at Anderson Galleries, New York, January 30–31, 1925, no. 21, to MMA. (See fig. 3). Compare with a blue and white ‘mandarin duck and lotus’ dish (17.5 cm in diameter), inscribed with Yongzheng mark and of the period, sold at Sotheby’s London, 6th November 2013, lot. 10, for GBP 50,000, initially estimated between GBP 15,000 – GBP 20,000 (see fig. 4).
The popularity of this design painted in underglaze copper-red and various enamels are well-known in China’s glorious porcelain tradition. The technique itself was the classic early Ming underglaze copper-red technique, and the Qing emulated it by filling with a multitude of small dots to depict the mandarin ducks, fishes and some of florals. Like on blue and white wares of Yongzheng reign emulating the early Ming pieces, the potter of the current piece tried to display ‘heaped-and-piled’ effect with well-marked dots hand-painted to imitate the natural heaped-and-piled effects of early Ming blue and white wares. This underglaze copper-red technique was also widely used in Qing of Qianlong reign. For example, a copper-red ‘Bats and Lotus’ globular jarlet, Qianlong mark and of the period (11 cm in diameter), sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 5th October 2016, lot. 3691, for HK$ 1,000,000, initially estimated between HK$ 500,000 – HK$ 700,000 (see fig. 5). Another, underglaze copper-red ‘magpie and prunus’ moonflask (29.3 cm in height), Qianlong mark and of the period, sold at Sotheby’s 11th May 2011, lot. 303, for GBP 1,049,250, initially estimated between GBP 300,000 – GBP 500,000 (see fig. 6). It is rare to find an underglaze copper-red and overglaze enamels with unique form of early Ming prototype bowl like on the current bowl.
With underglaze copper-red combined with various enamels, the present bowl is executed with ‘wucai’ style technique, and the blue pigment is distinctly replaced by underglaze copper-red color. Compared to other underglaze copper-red wares of eighteenth century, the current bowl is more complex execution requiring a meticulously effort. It used a technique of employing underglaze copper-red that was fired. To complete the decorative scheme, the overglaze iron-red, green and yellow enamels was painted over the glaze of the fired piece. After painting, the present piece had to be fired once more at a lower temperature of about 800 – 900oC to create a delicate delineated design. This bowl is one of the pieces represents the Yongzheng emperor’s interest, who influenced the artistic direction of the imperial kiln production. Together with the celebrated kiln superintendent Tang Ying, who both of them achieved an unsurpassed standard of quality and aesthetic subtlety by merging the emperor’s admiration in classic style of the past relics imbued with contemporary innovation.
The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Blue and White Porcelain with Underglazed Red, Shanghai, 2000, vol. 1, pl. 1
Ming Ceramics in the British Museum, Jessica Harrison-Hall London, 2001, p. 131.
Ellen Smart, ‘Fourteenth Century Chinese Porcelain from a Tughlaq Palace in Delhi’, Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, vol. 51, 1975-7, pl. 86c.
M. Addis, Early Blue and White Excavated in the Philippines, Manila, 1968, pl. 24.
the Asian Art Museum Chong-Moon Lee Center, San Francisco, Object Number: 2010.152.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accession Number:25.35.5, illustrated in Alfred E. Hippisley, (until 1925; his sale at Anderson Galleries, New York, January 30–31, 1925, no. 21, to MMA.