03 mars 2015

Argyle pink diamonds


Cerrone pink diamond ring in rose gold, set with princess cut and round brilliant Argyle pink diamonds. Available at


Linneys Argyle pink diamond ring in platinum and rose gold with white diamonds. Available at


J. Farren-Price Trilogy ring, set with a trio of step-cut Argyle pink diamonds. Available at


James Thredgold Pink Prosperity ring, featuring an 0.85ct radiant-cut Intense Pink Argyle diamond set within a white diamond halo. The hero gem is nestled within two pear-shape diamonds surrounded by a halo of pink Argyle diamonds in white gold. Available at


Cerrone diamond drop earrings in white and rose gold with pear-shaped white diamonds and Argyle pink diamonds. Available at


Cerrone Insieme Argyle pink diamond ring in white and rose gold with an oval Argyle pink diamond and oval white diamonds. Available at


Musson's Lowanna pink diamond ring ring is set with a 1.27ct Fancy Vivid Argyle pink diamond, complemented by a pair of 1.78ct blush pink diamond shoulders set in a white and rose gold bespoke Musson design. Available at


Mondial Pink Diamond Atelier Charisse pink diamond ring, set with a Vivid purple pink Argyle pink diamond in platinum and surrounded by 3.67ct oval-shaped diamonds. Available at


Mondial Pink Diamond Atelier Cathedral pink diamond ring in platinum featuring an emerald-cut 0.83ct natural Argyle pink diamond. Available at


Linneys Argyle pink diamond tiara encrusted with 178 Argyle pink diamonds. Available at


Linneys Argyle pink diamond ring in white and rose gold with white diamonds. Available at

A small blue and white wine cup and stand, Kangxi marks and period

A small blue and white wine cup and stand, Kangxi marks and period1

A small blue and white wine cup and stand, Kangxi marks and period2

A small blue and white wine cup and stand, Kangxi marks and period3

A small blue and white wine cup and stand, Kangxi marks and periodEstimate 4,000 — 6,000 USDPhoto Sotheby's.

the cup thinly potted with upright sides springing from a narrow foot, penciled on the exterior with a band of interlaced trefoil scrolls encircling the base, the stand with shallow flared sides centered with a stylized floret enclosed by a raised rim and bordered by a band of tightly drawn lotus scroll, the cup interior and the stand rim with silver mounts, six-character marks in underglaze blue within a double circle (2) - Height of cup 3 1/2  in., 8.8 cm; Diameter of stand 4 3/8  in., 11.1 cm

ProvenanceSotheby's London (according to label on base).
George Bartram Kiddell (1933-2013), Toronto, Canada and thence by descent.

NotesThere are very few examples of this type with the cup and stand together. For an example in the Palace Museum see Chen Runmin, ed., Gugong Bowuyuan cang Qingdai ciqi lei xuan [Qing porcelains from the Palace Museum Collection Selected by Type], vol. 1: Qing Shunzhi Kangxi chao qinghua ci [Blue-and-white porcelain of the Shunzhi and Kangxi reigns of the Qing], Beijing, 2005, no. 165. A cup with its stand was purchased by T.Y. Chao in our Hong Kong rooms, 22nd May 1979, lot 164 and then subsequently sold in Part II of the Collection sale, 19th May 1987, lot 267. A similar cup formerly the Percival David Foundation sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 11th April 2008, lot 3053 and another sold in our London rooms, 15th May 2013, lot 28.

Sotheby'sImportant Chinese Works of Art, New York, 17 mars 2015, 02:00 PM

A blue and white 'Lion' dish, Jiajing mark and period

A blue and white 'Lion' dish, Jiajing mark and period2

A blue and white 'Lion' dish, Jiajing mark and period3

A blue and white 'Lion' dish, Jiajing mark and period. Estimate 5,000 — 7,000 USDPhoto Sotheby's.

he shallow, rounded sides rising to an everted rim, the interior painted in vivid tones of cobalt blue with two Buddhist lions playing with a be-ribboned ball amidst auspicious emblems enclosed within concentric lines, the exterior with two further pairs of Buddhist lions centered by a ball trailing ribbons divided by ruyi-form clouds - Diameter 4 7/8  in., 12.5 cm

A blue and white 'Lion' dish, Jiajing mark and period1

together with a 17th century blue and white bowl with convex center painted with auspicious Buddhist symbol, the exterior with plants and insects, the base with an apocryphal Xuande mark (2)

A blue and white 'Lion' dish, Jiajing mark and period4

A blue and white 'Lion' dish, Jiajing mark and period5

ProvenanceCollection of Henry Bar, Shanghai, 1940's. 
Oriental Fine Arts, Inc. New York, 1950s.
Mr. and Mrs. Mario Belloso and thence by descent.

Sotheby'sImportant Chinese Works of Art, New York, 17 mars 2015, 02:00 PM

A blue and white 'Eight Trigrams' jar, Late Ming dynasty

A Blue and white 'Eight Trigrams' jar, Late Ming dynasty

A blue and white 'Eight Trigrams' jar, Late Ming dynasty. Estimate 5,000 — 7,000 USDPhoto Sotheby's.

of ovoid form, painted with the Eight Trigrams alternating with flaming ruyi heads with a band of breaking waves below and a leafy meander above, all divided by double lines, wood cover (2) - Height 7 1/2  in., 19.2 cm

ProvenanceThe Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, Virginia.
Christie's New York, 2nd December 1985, lot 243.

Sotheby'sImportant Chinese Works of Art, New York, 17 mars 2015, 02:00 PM

A blue and white 'Floral' basin, Late Ming dynasty, circa 1620s

A blue and white 'Floral' basin, Late Ming dynasty, circa 1620s1

A blue and white 'Floral' basin, Late Ming dynasty, circa 1620s2

A blue and white 'Floral' basin, Late Ming dynasty, circa 1620s3

A blue and white 'Floral' basin, Late Ming dynasty, circa 1620s. Estimate 8,000 — 10,000 USDPhoto Sotheby's.

painted in vibrant tones of underglaze blue, the interior with a square-form vase holding a large bouquet of flowering peony stems, flanked to either side by smaller jars containing lotus blooms, butterflies fluttering above, the everted rim encircled by further blooms emerging from rockwork, the exterior with three clusters of lotus alternating with pairs of herons, butterflies and florets along the rim, the base with an apocryphal Chenghua mark, Japanese wood box (2) - Diameter 11 1/4  in., 28.3 cm

ProvenancePrivate Japanese Collection.

Notes: A closely related basin, bearing a Tianqi mark and of the period, from the Butler Family Collection, is illustrated in Sir Michael Butler and Prof. Wang Qingzheng, Seventeenth Century Jingdezhen Porcelain from the Shanghai Museum and the Butler Collections, Beauty's Enchantment, Shanghai, 2006, pp. 66-67, cat. no. 3 where it is proposed that this particularly form of basin was only made during the Tianqi period and that it may have been used as a dice bowl.  Three other examples are in Japanese museums; the Nezu, the National Museum Tokyo and the Idemitsu. 

Sotheby'sImportant Chinese Works of Art, New York, 17 mars 2015, 02:00 PM

A blue and white 'Ming style' bottle vase, Daoguang seal mark and period

A blue and white 'Ming style' bottle vase, Daoguang seal mark and period

A blue and white 'Ming style' bottle vase, Daoguang seal mark and period 2

A blue and white 'Ming style' bottle vase, Daoguang seal mark and period. Estimate 30,000 — 50,000 USDPhoto Sotheby's.

the globular body rising from a short spreading foot to a tall waisted neck, finely painted in rich cobalt-blue tones with a composite floral scroll between a band of lappets and a frieze of pendent ruyi at the shoulder, the neck with plantain leaves above a key-fret border, further decorated with ruyi and a band of tumultuous waves around the mouthrim, the base inscribed with a six-character seal mark in underglaze blue - Height 14 7/8  in., 37.7 cm

ProvenanceHugh Moss Ltd., London, 10th May 1978.

Sotheby'sImportant Chinese Works of Art, New York, 17 mars 2015, 02:00 PM

A fine blue and white sleeve vase, Ming dynasty, Chongzhen period

A fine blue and white sleeve vase, Ming dynasty, Chongzhen period 1

A fine blue and white sleeve vase, Ming dynasty, Chongzhen period 2

A fine blue and white sleeve vase, Ming dynasty, Chongzhen period 3

A fine blue and white sleeve vase, Ming dynasty, Chongzhen periodEstimate 30,000 — 50,000 USDPhoto Sotheby's.

the cylindrical body rising to gently curved shoulders surmounted by a waisted neck, painted to the exterior with aspiring scholars and attendants offering prayers to the god of literature Wenchang accompanied by an attendant, with constellations nearby, the neck encircled by upright plantain leaves, the base unglazed - Height 17 3/4  in., 45 cm

ProvenanceA.J.B. Kiddell (1894-1980) a former director of Sotheby's London, and thence by descent. 

Sotheby'sImportant Chinese Works of Art, New York, 17 mars 2015, 02:00 PM

A blue and white brushpot (bitong), Qing dynasty, Kangxi period

A blue and white brushpot (bitong), Qing dynasty, Kangxi period1

A blue and white brushpot (bitong), Qing dynasty, Kangxi period2

A blue and white brushpot (bitong), Qing dynasty, Kangxi period3

A blue and white brushpot (bitong), Qing dynasty, Kangxi period4

A blue and white brushpot (bitong), Qing dynasty, Kangxi period. Estimate 60,000 — 80,000 USDPhoto Sotheby's.

well-painted on the exterior with a continuous narrative scene depicting the meeting between Xu You shown tending oxen who famously declines the offer of the mandate of heaven extended by Emperor Yao, standing beneath a parasol with guards and servants in attendance, all within a landscape of trees, rockwork and scudding clouds above, the recessed base with an artemisia leaf - Diameter 8 in., 20.4 cm

ProvenanceBerwald Oriental Art, London, 18th September 1997.
Collection of Dr. Lowell S. Young, San Francisco, collection no. 42.

Literature: Marchant, The Dr. Lowell Young Collection: Ming and Qing Blue and White Porcelain, London, 2012, no. 23.

NotesThe scene depicted on the brushpot depicts Emperor Yao in a meeting with Xu You, a minister who had left official life to become an oxherd, living life as a recluse. Emperor Yao had wanted to abdicate and sought out Xu, a former minister, in a bid to get Xu to return to the capital and take over the reins of the country.

A brushpot with similar subject matter from the collection of Mrs. Eugene L. Garbatty on extended loan to the Norton Gallery of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida, is illustrated in Stephen Little, Chinese Ceramics of the Transitional Period: 1620-1683, New York, 1983, no. 20. Another from the Collection of Peter and Nancy Thompson was sold in our London rooms, 7th November 2012, lot 39.

Sotheby'sImportant Chinese Works of Art, New York, 17 mars 2015, 02:00 PM

A rare and important blue and white 'Dragon' bowl (bo), Xuande mark and period

A rare and important blue and white 'Dragon' bowl (bo), Xuande mark and period 1

A rare and important blue and white 'Dragon' bowl (bo), Xuande mark and period 2

A rare and important blue and white 'Dragon' bowl (bo), Xuande mark and period 3

A rare and important blue and white 'Dragon' bowl (bo), Xuande mark and period 4

A rare and important blue and white 'Dragon' bowl (bo), Xuande mark and period. Estimate 2,500,000 — 3,500,000 USDPhoto Sotheby's.

the deep rounded sides stoutly potted and well-painted in intense and varying tones of cobalt blue on the exterior with two spiritedly drawn five-clawed striding dragons in mutual pursuit amidst scattered clouds wisps, all between a border of upright lotus petal lappets and a band of cresting waves, the interior with a double lines around the rim and a six-character mark in underglaze blue within a double circle at the base - Diameter 10 1/8  in., 25.8 cm

ProvenanceCollection of General Haughton; Bluett & Sons (acquired from the above 6th August 1948 for £ 25).
Collection of Gertrude and Otto Harriman (1948 -1970), acquired from Bluett & Sons, 30th August 1948 for £ 65 and thence by descent.
Bainbridge’s Ruislip, 17th May 2012, lot 29. 

ExhibitionMostra d’Arte Cinese/Exhibition of Chinese Art, Palazzo Ducale, Venice, 1954, cat. no. 647. 
Chinese Blue and White Porcelain: 14th to 19th Centuries, Oriental Ceramic Society, London, 1954, cat. no. 81.
Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery, Bristol, U.K. (on loan 1970-1989).
Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery, Nottingham, U.K. (on loan 1989-2012). 

NotesThe Yongle (1403-24) and Xuande (1426-35) reigns were perhaps the greatest periods of China’s porcelain manufacture and certainly the best time for blue-and-white. The common quality and yet diverging emphasis of the imperial production in these two reigns could hardly be better illustrated than by the two exceptional pieces included in this catalogue, the Mahin Banu Grape Dish of the Yongle period, lot 264, and the present Xuande 'Dragon' bowl. It was the Yongle Emperor who initiated an unprecedented command of the court over a ceramic manufactory by giving the imperial administration in Beijing, high up in the north, complete control over the kilns at Zhushan in Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province, south of the Yangzi River. Refinement of body and glaze materials seem to have been stipulated, high-grade cobalt provisioned, acceptable standards of workmanship and firing increased, forms and patterns pre-designed, and the output of both A-grade items and seconds requisitioned by the court, in order to distribute the former through official channels and destroy and bury the latter. 

This strict supervision of Jingdezhen porcelain continued through the Xuande reign, but not beyond, as the manufacture of imperial porcelains was low on the imperial agenda in the three short reigns of the following ‘interregnum’, a period of political instability. When the court took up its interest in fine table wares again in the Chenghua period (1465-87), materials, shapes and styles had changed. 

But whereas the Yongle Emperor appears to have used Jingdezhen’s blue-and-white porcelains predominantly for diplomatic purposes, for trade, and as imperial gifts rather than to furnish his palaces, the Xuande Emperor began to appropriate them as emblems of his imperial power. Thus, unlike many Yongle pieces that found their way into foreign lands, sent there on the Emperor’s orders, most Xuande pieces where retained in the palace and many are still remaining in the imperial collection today, either in the Palace Museum, Beijing, or the National Palace Museum, Taipei. Generally, they were inscribed with the imperial reign mark and thus display their imperial descent in eternity, a marking that was used extremely rarely in the Yongle reign. And although many forms and designs continued to be made almost identically over both periods, there is a clear domination of large sizes and motifs suitable for export in the Yongle era, whereas in the Xuande reign the dragon, as well as the phoenix, as symbols of imperial authority, became very prominent. Compared to the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368), where dragons were also a popular motif of porcelain, the imperial animals of the Xuande period were depicted as less fierce and more majestic, with their mouth closed, their powerful body evenly built and their legs showing five claws. The dragons on the present bowl are prime examples of the Xuande species, a type that became the classic dragon image of China. 

The present bowl, of which there are fewer than twenty known examples, is an iconic representative of one of the most famous eras of porcelain production. Because of its distinctively robust form, this type of bowl has traditionally been referred to by Western scholars and collectors as a ‘dice’ bowl; assuming that the dense walls were made to endure the inevitable wear and tear of flying dice. Throwing six dice in a bowl during the Moon Festival remains indeed a popular tradition. However, Chinese reference sources propose a different usage and describe this particular form as bo, a term associated with Buddhist alms bowls. For instance, the example in the Palace Museum (pl. 124 cited below) is accompanied by a note discussing the specific use of the word bo and relating it to the devote Buddhist practice of the Xuande emperor and his court.  

Although associated with Buddhism, these outstanding bowls bear the quintessential imperial emblems of five-clawed dragons and a prominently positioned six-character reign mark on the base of the interior. Dragons are frequently featured on Xuande imperial ware; obviously a deliberate choice and one that left no doubt as to the singular authority of the emperor. On the present example, the powerful mythical beasts are remarkably well drawn; the finer details such as scales, claws and waves are executed with a masterful precision that is cleverly juxtaposed by dynamic poses and playful expressions. The intense, rich blue derives from the use of the higher quality cobalt, imported to the East from Islamic regions, its high iron content causing separation during firing and giving rise to the famous ‘heaping and piling’ effect. The harmonious composition is further strengthened by the perfectly proportioned use of positive and negative space. The evident technical skill speaks to the high standards expected from the imperial kiln workers of the Xuande era. An accomplished artist himself, the Xuande emperor was an active patron of the arts.  His close interest in porcelain wares inspired numerous commissions during his brief ten year reign; a fact borne out by the variety, innovation, success and quantity of remaining imperial wares and the large number of shards from smashed inferior examples that have been excavated at Zhushan in Jingdezhen, the site of the Xuande imperial kilns. 

Blue and white dragon bowls of this thickly potted type and of Xuande mark and period are in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Blue and White Porcelain with Underglazed Red (I), Shanghai, 2000, pl. 124; in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, included in the Special Exhibition of Selected Hsuan-te Imperial Porcelains of the Ming Dynasty, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1998, 37; in the Nanjing Museum, illustrated in Xu Huping, Treasures of the Nanjing Museum, Hong Kong, 2001, no. 45; in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, illustrated in John Ayers, Far Eastern Ceramics in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1980, pl. 148; and from the Sir Percival David Collection at the British Museum, London, and in the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., published in Oriental Ceramics. The World's Great Collections, vol. 7, Tokyo, 1976, monochrome pl. 97, and vol. 10, Tokyo, 1976, monochrome pl. 104, respectively. Additionally, a similar fragmentary bowl was excavated at the imperial kiln site of Zhushan in 1983 and in the exhibition Xuande Imperial Porcelain Excavated at Jingdezhen, Chang Foundation Taiwan, 1998, cat. no. 16.1, col. pl. 25 and p. 199. 

Blue and white bowl

Xuande Blue and white 'Dragon' bowl. Image © Palace Museum, Beijing

Blue and white bowl excavated in Zhushan, 1983

Xuande Blue and white 'Dragon' bowl excavated in Zhushan, 1983. Image © Jingdezhen Institute of Archaeology.

Remarkably few of these distinctive thick-walled ‘dragon’ bowls have come up for auction over the years. A similar example from the Wu Lai-Hsi Collection was sold in our London rooms 26th May 1937, lot 52 and again in our London rooms from the Collection of C.M. Woodbridge, 8th May 1951, lot 69 where it was acquired by Bluett & Sons, London. Another from the Collection of Major Lindsay F. Hay was sold in our London rooms, 16th June 1939, lot 84, then again from the Collection of Lionel Edwards, 8th February 1945, lot 84 and for a third time, listed as from the Estate of Major Lindsay F. Hay 25th June 1946, lot 60. Another example, possibly the latter, in the Collection of Roy Leventritt was lent to the Ming Blue and White Exhibition at the Philadelphia Art Museum, 1949, no. 58.  A bowl of this form included in the exhibition Ming Blue and White, M.F.E.A., Stockholm, 1964, 31 and on loan at the M.F.E.A. between 1964 and 1974, was sold in our London rooms, 6th April 1976, lot 116 and a similar bowl was sold in these rooms 7th December 1983, lot 292. Three further examples were sold in our London rooms, one 11th May 1965, lot 27 and later again at Christie's New York, 9th November 1981; a second on 26th June 1973, lot 236 now in the Matsuoka Museum of Art, Tokyo and illustrated in Nakano, The Panoramic Views of Chinese Patterns, 1985, pl. 13; and the third on the 13th December 1977, lot 472 was sold again in our Hong Kong rooms 10th April 2006, lot 1659. Another example was sold Christie's Hong Kong, 20th March 1990, lot 519.  

Sotheby'sImportant Chinese Works of Art, New York, 17 mars 2015, 02:00 PM


The Mahin Banu ‘Grape’ dish: a magnificent and storied blue and white dish, Ming dynasty, Yongle period, circa 1420

The Mahin Banu ‘Grape’ dish a magnificent and storied blue and white dish, Ming dynasty, Yongle period, circa 1420 1

The Mahin Banu ‘Grape’ dish a magnificent and storied blue and white dish, Ming dynasty, Yongle period, circa 1420 2

The Mahin Banu ‘Grape’ dish a magnificent and storied blue and white dish, Ming dynasty, Yongle period, circa 1420 3

The Mahin Banu ‘Grape’ dish a magnificent and storied blue and white dish, Ming dynasty, Yongle period, circa 1420 4

The Mahin Banu ‘Grape’ dish a magnificent and storied blue and white dish, Ming dynasty, Yongle period, circa 1420 5

The Mahin Banu ‘Grape’ dish: a magnificent and storied blue and white dish, Ming dynasty, Yongle period, circa 1420Estimate 2,500,000 — 3,500,000 USDPhoto Sotheby's.

superbly painted in the center in rich tones of cobalt-blue with three bunches of grapes borne from a gnarled vine issuing characteristically broad furled leaves, detailed with veining, and delicately coiling tendrils, the cavetto subtly lobed in twelve panels each enclosing a floral spray; rose, peony, lotus, camellia, chrysanthemum and mallow alternating with leafy lingzhi sprigs, the barbed rim encircled by a band of roiling white-capped waves, the underside with similar floral sprays within the bracket-lobed panels, the base unglazed and with several markings; an inscription on the side of the foot and another along the base of the foot read Shah Jahan ibn Jahangir Shah 16 (regnal year) AH 1053, corresponding with AD 1643-4; a circular inscription reads waqf-e...razavi 'abduhu mahin banu safavi; a weight measure in black '252 tulah', and several unidentified drilled collectors marks - Diameter 17 in., 43.2 cm

ProvenanceMahin Banu Khanum (1519-1562) daughter of the founder of the Safavid dynasty, Shah Ismail I. (r. 1501-1524.)
Shah Jahan (r. 1628-1658), fifth emperor of the Mughal Dynasty of Northern India.
J.J. Klejman Works of Art, New York.
Guennol Collection, acquired 22nd September 1967.

ExhibitionArt Treasures of Turkey, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1968.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, on loan and display 1968-1991.
The Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York, on loan and display from 1991-2006.
The Guennol Collection: Cabinet of Wonders, The Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York, 2000, cat. no. 31.
Gifts of the Sultan: The Arts of Giving at the Islamic Court, Los Angeles County Museum of Art,  2011; Museum of Fine Arts Houston, 2011-12, cat. no. 99, illustrated on p. 63, fig. 58, with a detail of the engraved medallion with inscription in the center of the base. The dish is discussed on p. 67.  

LiteratureThe Guennol Collection, vol. I, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1975, pp. 287-290.
Suzanne G. Valenstein, A Handbook of Chinese Ceramics, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1975, p. 129, fig. 41.
Abolala Soudavar, "A Chinese Dish from the Lost Endowment of Princess Sutanum (925-69/1519-62)", in Kambiz Eslami, ed. Iran and Iranian Studies in Honor of Iraj Afshar, Princeton, 1998, pp. 125-134, figs. 1-3.
Frances Z. Yuan, "Chinese Art, the Wonder Cabinet and the Guennol Collection", Orientations, March 2000, vol. 31, no. 2, pp. 84-89, figs. 8 and 8a.

NotesOne of the great classic patterns of the early Ming, these dishes, always featuring three clusters of grapes issuing from a single stem, vary in few but important ways; the sides are lobed or rounded and the rims are straight or barbed. It is important to note that of all remaining examples, only one other dish of this precise design is published: a blue and white 'Grapes' dish with a foliate-rimmed border of breaking waves from the Ardebil Shrine is illustrated in John Alexander Pope,Chinese Porcelains from the Ardebil Shrine, London, 1981, pl. 37 (figs 1 and 2).

John Alexander Pope, Chinese Porcelains in the Ardebil Shrine, London, 1981, pl

Fig 1. John Alexander Pope, Chinese Porcelains in the Ardebil Shrine, London, 1981, pl. 37. Photograph © Sotheby’s.

John Alexander Pope, Chinese Porcelains in the Ardebil Shrine, London, 1981, pl

Fig 2. John Alexander Pope, Chinese Porcelains in the Ardebil Shrine, London, 1981, pl. 37. Photograph © Sotheby’s.

Other similar examples which have a wave border similar to the present example terminate in flat rims such as one in the Topkapi Museum, Istanbul, illustrated by Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics in the Topkapi Saray Museum, vol. 2, London, 1986, no. 606 (TKS 15/1456); another in the Ardebil shrine illustrated in Pope (ibid pl. 38); and a dish from the Avery Brundage Collection in the Asian Arts Museum, San Francisco similarly inscribed with the name of the Mughal Shah Jahan ibn Jahangir Shah (AD 1593-1666) and a date equivalent to AD 1643-4 and previously sold in our London rooms 24th March 1964, lot 96 is illustrated in He Li, Chinese Ceramics, London, 1996, p. 220, no. 400; another from the T. Y. Chao and R. E. R. Luff collections exhibited at the Hong Kong Museum of Art, Ming and Ching Porcelain in the Collection of the T. Y. Chao Family Foundation, illustrated in the Catalogue, 1978. A dish reputedly given by the Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908) to Sir Robert Hart, Inspector General of the Imperial Maritime Customs at the Chinese Treaty Ports, on his retirement in 1908, sold in our London rooms, 13th December 1966, lot 79. A dish of this pattern but of slightly smaller dimension from the Meiyintang Collection was sold in our Hong Kong rooms 4th April 2012, lot 21. 

Examples of 'grape' dishes with barbed rims vary from the present example being painted along the rim with a continuous floral scroll pattern most often described as 'blackberry-lily'. For an example preserved in the Palace Museum, Beijing, see Geng Baochang, ed., Gugong Bowuyuan cang Ming chu qinghua ci [Early Ming blue-and-white porcelain in the Palace Museum], Beijing, 2002, vol. II, pl. 133. Another of this type in the China National Museum is illustrated in Zhongguo guojia boguan, ciqi juan, ming dai, guancang wenwu yanjiu chonghsu, Shanghai, 2006, pl. 38. For an example in the Ardebil shrine, which holds eleven 'grape' dishes, see Pope (op.cit., pl. 38.) Another, in the British Museum, London, is illustrated in Jessica Harrison-Hall, Ming Ceramics in the British Museum, London, 2001, pl. 3:36, where the author mentions that this grape dish pattern became the most influential design model for Iznik potters making blue and white wares in the 1530s and 1540s. Another example of this type gifted by Mr. and Mrs. F. Gordon Morrill, is in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and illustrated in Wu Tung, Earth Transform, Chinese Ceramics in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2001, p. 115. 

Fragments of 'grape' dishes have been recovered from the waste heaps of the Ming Imperial kilns at Jingdezhen examples of which are illustrated in Imperial Hongwu and Yongle Porcelain Excavated at Jingdezhen, Chang Foundation, Taipei, 1996, pl. 44; and Imperial Porcelain of the Yongle and Xuande Periods Excavated from the Site of the Ming Imperial Factory at Jingdezhen, Hong Kong Museum of Art, 1989, cat. no. 90. 

Sotheby'sImportant Chinese Works of Art, New York, 17 mars 2015, 02:00 PM


Porcelain Diplomacy. BY REGINA KRAHL

Under the Yongle Emperor (r. 1403-24) Chinese porcelain was transformed, and in more than one way. Not only did its material quality and stylistic sophistication jump to unprecedented heights; its value to the court also evolved from that of an exquisite, practical item of the imperial household to becoming a commodity with economic and diplomatic potential for the Emperor.

The Yongle Emperor was an outward looking monarch, but in quite a different way from the Mongol Emperors of the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368), who had facilitated international trade. He had great ambitions to propagate China’s supremacy internationally and at the same time to control and channel encounters with foreign countries. To that end he made use of all China had to offer and submitted China’s resources to a new regimentation. 

China had no monopoly on silk, but silk was probably its most important export product. Silks were lavishly bestowed on foreign rulers abroad and diplomatic missions that arrived in China. But being highly perishable, not lasting much longer than a generation, the gifts would not retain their value and thus fulfil their diplomatic purpose for very long. China had a monopoly on porcelain, and while porcelains were cumbersome to transport, they were durable, could be mended even when broken, and carried their message as tokens of China’s ingenuity, superiority and generosity from generation to generation and even from state to state, when they changed hands across borders. 

It was only a few generations earlier, shortly before the Chinese had reconquered the Chinese throne from the Mongols and founded the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), that blue-and-white porcelain had emerged at Jingdezhen in Jiangxi province and had rapidly ‘conquered’ all of Asia. It had become the preferred tableware of potentates everywhere, an unobtainable luxury for most commoners, often known only from hearsay, which contributed to its almost mythical status. Yet in the Yuan dynasty it had been available on the market and with sufficient funds could be bought. The Hongwu Emperor (r. 1368-98) had reversed the free market policy of the Mongols and tightly controlled all international trade, totally excluding foreigners from the lucrative export of Chinese goods. The Yongle Emperor made active use of those goods, which the world desired and China was best equipped to supply. 

In order to make porcelains suitable ‘ambassadors’ of the Ming Empire, their production had to be carefully monitored. Commercial porcelain factories seem to have ceased operation. Porcelain was produced only for the imperial court and the output of the Jingdezhen kilns reached a peak of excellence. Quality control was maximized so as to make Chinese porcelains impeccable. Seconds and surplus were relentlessly destroyed and buried to avoid their entering into circulation. Seconds simply do not exist of Yongle porcelain. Designs were jealously guarded against outside eyes, so no copies could be made by lesser kilns that might be confused with the original and in this way harm repute and prestige of this magical product. The many Persian, Syrian, Turkish and other Western Asian copies that exist are indeed generally of much later date. 

Porcelain was produced for the court, its specifications defined and quality monitored by the court, its secrecy strictly guarded by the court, and its distribution organized by the court and assured through official channels. At excavation sites in the Near and Middle East, which have brought to light Chinese trade ceramics from the Tang (618-907) through to the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), Yongle wares are basically absent. They could not easily be obtained, even with money, and therefore were highly valued from the moment they left China – an appreciation that never waned. 

The distribution of Yongle porcelain from the kilns was ensured through several routes, all of them official: via China’s vast maritime expeditions under the leadership of the Muslim court eunuch Zheng He (1371-1433), who sailed seven times with huge fleets to ports all over Asia and as far as East Africa; via China’s overland expeditions to the Timurid court under the court official Chen Cheng (1365-1457), who travelled three times to Iran, visiting Samarkand and Herat; and via official foreign embassies received by the Emperor in the Chinese capital. 

Iranian merchants had been the main traders in China during the Mongol reign, and Iran remained the major trading partner for China also in the early Ming period. After an interruption in the Hongwu reign, the Yongle Emperor re-established a good relationship to the Timurid ruler Shahrukh Mirza (r. 1405-47), which led to a frequent mutual exchange of embassies. 

China always had an acute shortage of fine horses, which had to be imported from lands further west and thus welcomed this form of trade. Not all foreign ‘tributes’ were, however, of this useful nature. A joint embassy sent by Shiraz and Isfahan in 1419, for example, presented besides fine horses also a lion and a leopard to the Yongle Emperor and was richly rewarded with presents of ‘fine silks, girdles and porcelain vessels’ for the respective rulers.1 A giraffe thus brought to China and presumably exchanged for porcelain was immortalized in a Chinese painting.2 The Chinese imperial house looked after the embassies during their stay in China, and followed a policy of gracious generosity, giving more than they received. The tribute exchange was so lucrative to the foreigners that the strict system was daringly circumvented and unofficial embassies of private Central Asian merchants purporting to come from the Timurid ruler arrived in China. China’s officialdom duly complained that the expenses for the growing number of missions were too costly, in particular since gifts such as the exotic animals were little appreciated and deemed useless. 

More Yongle porcelain thus seems to have reached Timurid Persia than any other state, and the present dish is most likely to have come to Iran directly from China, at the time it was made. We know nothing about its first owners, who may have been Timurid royals, but may also have been enterprising merchants, who undertook the dangerous overland voyage as self-appointed ‘official envoys’ and sold the goods on to rich customers. At least four3 drilled owners’ marks on the dish are testimony to a repeated change of hands as well as the great esteem the piece washeld in. Such permanent identification may signify pride of ownership as well as fear of theft. These drilled markings would have been applied soon after the dish had reached Iran. They are most frequently seen in a Persian context, typically on Yongle and earlier porcelains and rarely on pieces postdating the 15th century. 

Although many Yongle porcelains are found in the Topkapi Saray collection in Istanbul, some also with drilled owners’ marks, Iran was most likely the most important (secondary) source for these wares as well, as they predate the establishment of the Ottoman Empire in Constantinople in 1453. Although the Ottomans may have received some Yuan and early Ming porcelains already in their previous capital Edirne, the numbers are likely to have been small and the contacts again indirect. Drilled markings which some Topkapi Saray porcelains share with pieces donated to the Ardabil Shrine in Iran by Shah Abbas (r. 1588-1629) in 1611, support the assumption that they were not applied in Turkey, but earlier on in Iran. 

In India Chinese blue-and-white is documented already in the Yuan dynasty, but porcelain collecting was much less important there than in Iran. Due to a general bias against the material by Hindus, who indiscriminately deemed ceramics to be unclean, collecting in India was done mostly by Muslims, and little appears to have come directly to India in the early and mid-Ming period, before the beginning of Mughal rule in 1526. 

In the 16th century, Chinese porcelain frequently changed hands between the three major powers of South and West Asia, the Safavids of Iran, the Mughals of India, and the Ottomans of Turkey, both in the form of friendly diplomatic offerings and as highly coveted war booty. The Ottoman Sultan Selim I (r. 1512-20) seized porcelains in Persia, Syria and Egypt in the early 16th century and later received generous gifts of porcelain from Persia. Shah Tahmasp (r. 1524-76), presented Suleiman the Magnificent (r. 1520-66) as well as his sons, Selim II (r. 1566-74) and Prince Bayezid (1525-61), with porcelains from the mid-16th century onwards, and such gifts continued through the 17th century and into the 18th. Lesser numbers of porcelains also appear to have arrived in Istanbul from India, with one large gift of two hundred Chinese porcelains reputedly sent to Suleiman the Magnificent. Exchanges between Safavids and Mughals are equally documented, and a white bowl of Hongzhi mark and period (1488-1505), engraved with the seal of Emperor Jahangir (r. 1605-27) was, for example, included in the Ardabil Shrine donation. 

The present dish, however, appears to have remained in Iran for well over a century and in the 16th century was in the hands of Safavid royalty. The circular cartouche (vaqf) carved in the center of its base is testimony to ownership by Princess Mahin Banu Khanum (1519-62), also known as Shahzada Sultanum, youngest daughter of the Safavid Shah Ismail (r. 1501-24) and Tajlu Khanum, and full sister of Shah Tahmasp. Mahin Banu was a remarkable, highly accomplished and cultured woman, who became an influential advisor to her brother and thus played an important political and diplomatic role in the Empire herself. She remained unmarried, apparently largely due to her brother’s jealous watch over her. She exchanged diplomatic correspondence with another powerful woman of the time, Roxelana (c. 1500-1558), or Hürrem Sultan, wife of the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, and played a crucial intermediary role in Shah Tahmasp’s dealings with the Mughal Emperor Humayun (r. 1531-40). She employed her own considerable wealth, which derived from properties in Shirvan, Tabriz, Qazvin, Ray, and Isfahan, to support shrines, places of pilgrimage and religious foundations. She established an endowment for the welfare of women, in particular to help orphan girls into marriage. She patronized Persian art and literature and practised calligraphy. And she appears to have assembled a collection of porcelains, which at her death was made into a pious gift together with her jewels.4


Much of her charitable work was devoted to the Shrine of Ali al-Ridha (766-819), known as Imam Reza, the Eighth of the Twelve Imams venerated in Shia Islam. His shrine in Mashhad, which was constantly enlarged and enhanced, claims to be the largest mosque in the world. Mahin Banu’s porcelain collection otherwise seems to have been dispersed. No porcelain is recorded to remain at the Shrine and the present dish is currently the only example that can be traced to this distinguished royal collection and its donation, due to its inscription. 

Abolala Soudavar states in his essay on the present piece that the dish could only have been removed from the Shrine during the conquest of Mashhad by the Uzbeks in 1590, quoting Eskandar Beyg-e Torkamãn, that the Uzbek troops “looted every gold and silver object, jewel studded lamps, carpets, valuable Qorãns and ‘Chinese vessels,’ and subsequently traded them ‘for the price of cheap ceramic shards’ among themselves”5. It is probably at that time that an attempt was made to efface the vaqf marking on the dish. He suggests that the looted items were then sent to Transoxiana, where the Mughal Emperors managed to acquire some.

Not long after, before the middle of the 17th century, the dish reappeared in the possession of the Mughal Shah Jahan, third son of Emperor Jahangir, who ruled the Mughal Empire from 1628 to 1658. Another inscription, this time elegantly engraved by a court engraver around the foot of the dish, attests to its acquisition in AD 1643/4 (AH 1053), while Shah Jahan resided in Agra and had the Taj Mahal constructed there. Soudavar argues that with its vaqf (religious endowment) inscription, it would only have been acceptable to Shah Jahan if its base at the time had been covered by some kind of mount to hide it, and believes this may also be the reason that Shah Jahan’s own inscription appears at the side of the foot. 

Shah Jahan’s porcelain collection is also dispersed today, but we know a little more about it than about that of Mahin Banu, as seven or eight further pieces bearing his engraved inscription and/or dates are recorded among others: 


1) A Yongle blue-and-white dish with a lotus scroll with two large blooms, formerly in the Trevelyan collection and now with the National Trust at Wallington, Northumberland, that entered the collection of Shah Jahan in the first year of his reign, AD 1628 (AH 1037) (fig. 1)

2) A Yongle blue-and-white dish with a scroll of four different flowers and a date pertaining to AD 1632 (AH 1042), sold at Sotheby’s London, 19th June 1984, lot 249 (fig. 2). 


3) A Yuan dynasty blue-and-white dish of unknown design, with a date equivalent to AD 1634/5 (AH 1044), a Mughal heirloom piece placed into the Bibi-Ka-Maqbara in Aurangabad, the mausoleum of Dilras Banu Begum built either by her husband, Emperor Aurangzeb (r. 1658-1707), son of Shah Jahan, or by her son, Prince Azam Shah, in the latter part of the 17th century, which also contained a sizeable porcelain collection; the dish was later moved to the Archaeological Museum, Hyderabad (fig. 3). 


4) A Yongle blue-and-white grape dish with straight rim and a continuous flower scroll around the sides, with a date referring to AD 1645 (AH 1054), formerly in the collection of R. Harris, sold at Sotheby’s London, 24th March, 1964, lot 96, later in the Avery Brundage Collection and now in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco (fig. 4). 


5) A Yuan dynasty blue-and-white dish painted with a qilin in a garden setting, and inscribed with a date equivalent to AD 1653 (AH 1063), formerly probably in the collection of Mrs. William van Horne, Montreal, sold at Sotheby’s London, 6th June 1967, lot 39, later in the Rockefeller 3rd Collection and now in the collection of the Asia Society, New York (fig. 5). 

Other Mughal emperors and royals are also known to have owned Chinese porcelains, but Shah Jahan’s assemblage of early blue-and-white and gold-decorated porcelains must have surpassed all others and thus echoes the well-documented magnificence of this Emperor’s court. Little can be surmised about the subsequent history of this dish, although in the latter half of the 19th and early 20th century, several collections of Chinese porcelain were assembled in India, most notably that of William Cummins which consisted of some 600 pieces, some of them acquired from royal Indian collections. Yongle pieces, however, remained exceedingly scarce in such holdings. 

Yongle ‘grape dishes’ are also included in the remains of the royal Ottoman and Safavid collections, and are equally found in the Chinese imperial court collection, none, however, of the exact pattern of the present piece, which represents the rarest version of the grape design. Grapes are a motif not native the central China, but associated with Central and Western Asian lands. As a decoration on Chinese artefacts they always appeared when international trade via the Silk Route was flourishing, particularly in the 6th and the 14th centuries. In the Yongle reign the design became a popular motif for blue-and-white porcelain and several different versions are known. The two most frequently seen are examples with a delicate flower scroll instead of waves on the barbed rim, and dishes with plain circular rim with wave design and a continuous flower scroll around the well. Dishes with these variants of the design had entered both the Safavid royal collection at Ardabil, Iran, and the Ottoman royal collection at Topkapi Saray, Istanbul, Turkey, and were present in the Chinese imperial collection at least since the Qing dynasty, and are remaining in the Palace Museum, Beijing, today. 

Nevertheless, it is the present version of the design that was precisely copied in the 16th century by the Iznik pottery kilns in Turkey, as can be seen on a piece in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Even if the present dish may in its long wanderings never have reached Turkey, a companion piece, made at the same time, perhaps by the same hands, took another route and ended up further west. Yongle porcelains thus fulfilled a remarkable diplomatic role as ambassadors propagating China’s brilliant culture – a role they fulfil to this day. 

1 E. Bretschneider, Mediaeval Researches from Eastern Asiatic Sources, London, 1910, vol. II (reprinted from 1875), p. 293.

2 Jessica Harrison-Hall, Catalogue of Late Yuan and Ming Ceramics in the British Museum, London, 2001, p. 121, fig. 3.

3 The exact number is difficult to ascertain since marks with a smaller number of dots could easily be modified by new owners by adding more dots. The lozenge-shaped four-dot mark, for example, whose dots are somewhat irregular, could well have started as a two- or three-dot marking.

4 Kishwar Rizvi, “Gendered Patronage: Women and Benevolence during the Early Safavid Empire”, Women, Patronage, and Self-Representation in Islamic Societies, ed. D. Fairchild Ruggles, Albany, 2000, pp. 128f.

5 Abolala Soudavar, ‘A Chinese Dish from the Lost Endowment of Princess Sultanum (925-69/1519-62)’, in Kambiz Eslami, ed., Iran and Iranian Studies in Honor of Iraj Afshar, Princeton, 1998, pp. 125-34.



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