of rounded sides rising from a tapered foot to a wide everted rim, finely painted in dark inky tone of cobalt-blue exhibiting rust spots in places, the center decorated with single small lotus panel framing a blooming peony flower reserved against the blue ground geometrically surrounded by four ogival-shaped panel enclosing the lotus and peony blooms on a wave ground, all designs floating on fully classic scrollwork patterns ground, around the cavetto delicately with a band of scrolling lotus consisting of six blossoming lotus borne on meandering leafy stems below the everted rim with a diamond brocade pattern, a band of interlocking six blossoming peonies flowers and spiky leaves arranged at the exterior, an unglazed base burnt in yellowish-brown color in the firing.
RESEARCH & ESSAY.
When Mongol troops conquered the Khwarazmian empire (1077 – 1231 AD) in Persia (modern-day Iran) between 1219 – 1370 AD, the Mongols controlled an area extended from Eastern Europe through the Central Asia to China and Korea. In 1235 AD, Mongols also continued to defeat the Jin dynasty, and then dropped the Southern Song dynasty in 1279 AD in China. Thus, Yuan dynasty became a significant ruler both in trade affairs and diplomatic affairs between Yuan dynasty in China and abroad. Mongols, under Yuan dynasty, also created courts in Persia, and southern Russia to be used an agency of diplomacy to establish the trade and diplomatic relations with the whole part of the world. Jingdezhen kilns in Jiangxi province of China was reopened and it marked at the height of point in the production of blue-and-white porcelains during the Yuan dynasty. China under Yuan dynasty also became a multicultural nation and was in great need multiskilled talents to support porcelain production at Jingdezhen kiln.
The present dish is one of the multicultural designs painted in cobalt blue with an Islamic-China cultural context. Pioneered by Tang dynasty (618 – 906 AD), the sphere of Islamic religion and artistic culture of Persia was at its peak under Yuan dynasty. The imported blue pigment was applied on blue-and-white wares. In examining manganese-to-iron (Mn/Fe) ratios of cobalt blue areas on the present dish, the cobalt ore is thickly applied, and the iron impurities in the design tends to fire to strong metallic blackish spots, where the blue pigment was most probably imported from Persia. The use of the imported blue pigment like on the current dish, was a primary characteristic of blue-and-white porcelain produced during the Yuan dynasty, and it was resumed in the early Ming period that was proved to be highly popular. The balance geometric ogival-shaped panel around a central point on the present dish was obviously inspired from the half-palmette patterns pottery produced in Persia (modern-day Iran) for Islamic taste from 9th to 12th centuries, or so-called “arabesque’ pattern in the West. In Persian tradition, ogival-shaped or “arabesque’ pattern was stylized with more elaborate design that was usually embroidered on rugs, molded on jewelries or painted on Islamic book references or cover of Holy Qur’an, and tiles of mosque walls in Islamic dynasties. The pattern was also depicted on many potteries of Persia dynasty in slightly simple execution. This Islamic pattern is shown on an overglaze polychrome earthenware of bowls that had been produced in Iraq since 9th century and 12th century. For example, the ogival-shaped or ‘arabesque’ pattern like on the present dish is further depicted on a black and turquoise footed pottery dish of Great Seljuk period (1040 – 1194 AD) dated 2nd half the 12th century, from the Ashmolean Museum, illustrated in Islamic Ceramics, Ashmolean-Christie’s Handbooks (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 1991), Allan, James W, no. 9 on p. 20, illus. p. 21 (see fig. 1). The ‘arabesque’ panels like on the current dish were then largely resumed by the potters of Islamic dynasties. Further, the ogival-shaped arabesque pattern was adopted by Iznik potters of Islamic Ottoman dynasty (r.1299 – 1922 AD) in Turkey depicting on the potteries in the sixteenth century. See the similar composition of ogival-shaped ‘arabesque’ design on the central medallion of Iznik-Turkey plate, dated 1580 – 1590 AD), from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Accession number M.85.237.85 (see fig. 2).
In 13th century, the communications between Yuan dynasty and its ally and subordinate in Persia, the Ilkhanate, encouraged the Chinese art development in China. When the palmette pattern on potteries greatly became popular for luxurious items in the Muslim world, the porcelain painters of Yuan dynasty at Jingdezhen immediately absorbed the Persian styles inspiration, not only the imported cobalt pigment used but also the essence of Persia designs that were created by their own spirit, new ideas and motifs into their own repertoire. For over thousands of years, the half-palmette or arabesque pattern was recreated as a folded-ruyi or ogival panel form. In China, ruyi is one of the Eight Taoist immortals and the most favorite ornaments widely used in decorative motifs of all Chinese Buddhists and Taoists asfaqi. Ruyi (如意) stylized in ‘sihe ruyi’ or ‘four ruyi’ symbolizes ‘instruments of the dharma’ and also ‘everything goes according to one’s wishes and everything is granted. Four Ruyi pattern is also modelled on a gold with repoussé and chased ‘four ruyi’ with floral design, dated Yuan dynasty (1271 – 1368 AD), from Nanjing Museum, in the capital of Jiangsu Province of East China (see fig. 3). Further, a wide range of ogival-shaped panels design, either painted or molded, are frequently depicted on Yuan blue-and-white jars.
Stylized in folded Ruyi (如意) ruyi panels reserved on abstract or scrollwork patterns on the present impressive large Yuan dish makes the vessel exceptional and rarely published. There are blue-and-white ‘ruyi’ panels floating on classic scrolls of Yuan dynasty exist in the collection executed in different arrangement and style. While no two Yuan dishes of this type are exactly the same, but the central design on the current example is closely similar style to a large dish decorated with six ruyi-shaped panels reserved on scroll work or abstract pattern, from Topkapi Saray Museum Istanbul, illustrated in Chinese Ceramics in the Topkapi Saray Museum, Istanbul, ed. John Ayers, London, Regina Krahl, 1986, vol. 2, no. 552 (see fig. 4). Regina Krahl, the Chinese ceramic author and expert, in The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland No. 1 (1986), pp. 68-92 discusses that the Chinese ceramic in Istanbul, on other hand, are nearly all object made specifically for the export market, to be sold mainly in the Middle East and India, and to a certain extend in Southeast Asia. Export porcelain is not inferior version of official ware; generally, it does not copy it at all, but is stylistically independent and has its own fund of motifs and design elements.
The Yuan blue-and-white dish decorated with ruyi cloud design reserved fully on scrollwork pattern is also executed in molding relief. Compare with a dish executed with molding in relief around the cavetto and rim, from Sotheby’s Hong Kong, illustrated in Blue & White – Chinese Porcelain Around the World, J. Carswell, London, 2000, p. 26, cat. no. 20. Antoher in foliated rim decorated with ruyi panels reserved on serpentine waves from Los Angeles County Museum, is illustrated in Ceramics: From the Prehistoric Period through Ch’ien Lung, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, 1952, cat. no. 262 (see fig. 5). Compare with related blue and white barbed rim dish designed with molded four ruyi panels reserved against classic scroll in the center, sold at Sotheby’s New York, 18th – 19th March, 2014, lot. 230, for US$ 4,197,000, initially estimated between US$ 200,000 – 300,000 (see fig. 6).
Like history of Yuan blue-and-white wares traded and collected in Persia and Istanbul, since the present dish is collected by one of the royal bloodlines of Srivijaya empire in Sumatra Island for hundreds of years, it is not separable with history of its established provenance. In thirteenth century, Java empire attempted to solidify its control over the lucrative spice trade by extending its authority over southeastern Sumatran ports and the critical Malacca straits. However, the Chinese countered Javanese expansion through military intervention in the straits region between 1292 and 1294 AD, through the opening of new trade markets and trade routes with direct Chinese commercial transport and through the development of South Chinese textile and ceramic industries geared toward large-scale export. It was not until the Song dynasty that Chinese porcelains attracted an overseas market comparable to that of silk in the preceding dynasties and large quantities of porcelain began to be traded into Southeast Asia centers (see: Raiding, Trading, and Feasting: The Political Economy of Philippine Chiefdoms, Chapter 7: Long-distance Porcelain Trade, Laura Lee Junker, University of Hawai’i Press, Honolulu, USA, 1999, p 191).
Islamic Ceramics, Ashmolean-Christie’s Handbooks (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 1991), Allan, James W, no. 9 on p. 20, illus. p. 21.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Accession number M.85.237.85.
Chinese Ceramics in the Topkapi Saray Museum, Istanbul, ed. John Ayers, London, Regina Krahl, 1986, vol. 2, no. 552.
The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland No. 1 (1986), pp. 68-92.
Blue & White – Chinese Porcelain Around the World, J. Carswell, London, 2000, p. 26, cat. no. 20.
Ceramics: From the Prehistoric Period through Ch’ien Lung, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, 1952, cat. no. 262.
Raiding, Trading, and Feasting: The Political Economy of Philippine Chiefdoms, Chapter 7: Long-distance Porcelain Trade, Laura Lee Junker, University of Hawai’i Press, Honolulu, USA, 1999, p 191.