A very rare imperial white-glazed deep bowl

Lot 1359. very rare imperial white-glazed deep bowl, Chenghua six-character mark in underglaze blue within a double circle and of the period (1465-1487); 7½ in. (19 cm.) diam. Estimate $300,000 - $500,000Price realised USD 1,178,500. © Christie's Images Ltd 2010

With steep sides rising to a slightly flared rim, covered all over in a glaze of soft milk-white tone, box.

Literature: H. Garner and M. Medley, Chinese Art in Three-Dimensional Color, vol. IV, London, 1969, p. 75 and reel 9, no. 1.

ExhibitedSelections from the William and Winifred Corbin Collection of Chinese Pottery and Porcelain, Portland Art Museum, 1 - 29 March 1964, no. 35.

Note: The fine white glaze of the Chenghua reign is perhaps the most successful in imitating white jade. It is assumed by many scholars that the famous tianbai sweet white glaze, first seen in the reign of the Yongle Emperor, was inspired by jade, which was a material particularly admired by Yongle. Indeed, excavations of the Yongle strata at the Imperial kiln site comprised well over 90 white porcelains. The tianbai glaze was prized for its soft unctuous feel, and the way that light travelled through it. However, further developments took place in the making of imperial white porcelains in the Chenghua reign (1465-87) achieving, as can be seen from the current bowl, an even greater purity of color and unctuousness of glaze. Compared to earlier glazes, the Chenghua glaze has been described as: ...more softly luminous and more jade-like in appearance (see The Tsui Museum of Art, A Legacy of Chenghua - Imperial Porcelain of the Chenghua Reign Excavated from Zhushan, Jingdezhen, Hong Kong, 1993, p. 72).
The particular whiteness of the Chenghua porcelain was achieved by very careful preparation of the raw materials, resulting in minimal levels of iron oxide, which would have discolored the glaze, and slightly higher levels of aluminium oxide, allowing firing at a slightly higher temperature, which resulted in a denser and whiter body. Recent scientific analysis has shown that the porcelains of the Chenghua reign contain less iron oxide than any of their predecessors. The very white Chenghua body material is complemented by a glaze, which also contained very little iron oxide, as well as less calcium oxide, resulting in a clearer glaze with a finer texture. This jade-like texture is enhanced by the very small, evenly and densely dispersed bubbles in the glaze, which give a softer, smoother appearance when reflecting light. The current bowl is also very finely potted, which enhances its translucency.

Although a number of Chenghua white cups are known, and a significant number of sherds of white cups were found in the later Chenghua stratum at the Imperial kiln site at Jingdezhen (see The Tsui Museum of Art, A Legacy of Chenghua - Imperial Porcelain of the Chenghua Reign Excavated from Zhushan, Jingdezhen, op. cit., p. 66, pl. 14b), very few bowls have survived. Thus, the current bowl is very rare. An example of a very similar Chenghua white bowl may be found, however, in the collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei, and is illustrated in Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of Cheng-hua Porcelain Ware, Taipei, 2003, pl. 104. (Fig.1).

Pure white bowls of this type would have been suitable for ritual use. White was an appropriate color for Buddhist ritual, and was also the color designated for the Xiyuetan, the Altar of the Moon, as well as for offerings made at the altar to the Imperial Ancestors. In considering why so few white bowls have survived, compared to the number of white cups, one is lead to the conclusion that fewer were made. It seems probable that these white Imperial Chenghua bowls were reserved for ritual purposes, but may not have been in daily use, hence their rarity.

An extremely rare pale celadon-glazed compressed globular jar

Lot 1357. An extremely rare pale celadon-glazed compressed globular jar, Yongle period (1403-1425); 6 5/8 in. (16.9 cm.) diam. Estimate $300,000 - $500,000Price realised USD 1,082,500. © Christie's Images Ltd 2010

Of broad, compressed form, covered all over, and on the base, with an attractive pale 'winter-green' glaze thinning on the short neck and pooling slightly in darker tears beneath three modified biscuit florets on the sloping shoulders, the interior glazed white, box.

Provenance: Nathan Bentz & Co., San Francisco.
Harry Nail.

Note: This rare and exquisite jar reflects both the exceptional quality of porcelains made for the Yongle emperor, and the successful innovation that was undertaken at the Imperial kilns during his reign. It was in this period, in the first quarter of the 15th century, that skilled ceramic craftsmen experimented with a range of different glazes and decorative techniques, achieving results that would inspire potters for centuries. Among the experiments was the development of glazes, which looked back to classic Song dynasty wares, but which were reformulated for use on pure white porcelain.

As early as the Tang dynasty (618-907) celadon-green glazes were refined to the extent that they appealed to the court and to scholars. Lauded by poets, these Yue wares were among the first ceramics to be appreciated for their own beauty, as opposed to being less expensive substitutes for other materials. Celadons developed further in the Song dynasty (960-1279), establishing a special place among court ceramics. It is little wonder that the early 15th century potters working at the Imperial kilns should seek to develop an even more refined celadon glaze. However, the early celadon glazes were applied to stoneware bodies, which were grey in tone, and the overall effect was usually quite muted. In the early Ming dynasty the potters at the Imperial kilns at Jingdezhen were working with a highly refined, pure white porcelain body, which required a different type of celadon glaze. While the blue-green color of the new glaze still owed its color to small amounts of reduced iron, the clarity of tone and the purity of color gave this Yongle glaze, as seen on this jar, a much greater delicacy. Perhaps even more than the mise Yue wares, to which he was referring, the late Tang poet Xu Yin's description "like a full moon dyed with spring water" would be appropriate for this glaze.

Few Yongle porcelains with this delicate, clear, bluish-green glaze have survived. There are, however, two Yongle jars of the same form, and with the same glaze in the palace collections. These are of different sizes. The jar in the Palace Museum, Beijing, which measures 14.1 cm. across its base is illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - 37 - Monochrome Porcelain, Hong Kong, 1999, p. 134-5, no. 123, where the glaze color is described as cuiqing, bluish-green or jade green. (Fig. 1) The example from the National Palace Museum, Taipei, which measures 12.3 cm., is illustrated in Porcelain of the National Palace Museum, Monochrome Ware of the Ming, Book I, Hong Kong, 1968, p. 50, pls. 10, 10a and 10b, where the color of the glaze is described as dongqing, 'winter green'. Interestingly, these latter jars have three loop handles rising from a quatrefoil base on the shoulder. The current jar would also have had similar handles, but we may assume that at sometime in the jar's history one or more of the handles was broken. However, three flower heads have been carved from the remaining porcelain on the shoulder. It must have required considerable skill on the part of the craftsman who undertook this work, since carving fired porcelain without damaging the surrounding glaze would have been very challenging. The fact that such work was commissioned indicates the high regard in which the jar was held by its owner.
A small number of additional surviving Yongle porcelain vessels have pale celadon glazes. There are, for example, both a stem cup and a bowl in the collection of the Palace Museum, which have fine glazes, and are illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - 37 - Monochrome Porcelain, op. cit., pp. 136-7, nos. 124 and 125, but neither quite attains the perfection of glaze color and clarity seen on the current vessel and the two other jars.

A Yongle jar of the same form as the current vessel, but with three handles remaining on the shoulders, and a tianbai, 'sweet white' over incised anhua, 'secret decoration', was illustrated by B. Gyllensvärd, when the jar was in the Carl Kempe Collection, Chinese Ceramics in the Carl Kempe Collection, Stockholm, 1964, p. 198, no. 664. A jar of similar shape and color to the current jar, but without handles or traces of handles, was sold, Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 8 October 2009, lot 1624. On the current jar, the unglazed white flowers on the shoulders enhance the delicacy of the vessel, and complement the refined pale celadon glaze.

A very rare imperial yellow-glazed dish

Lot 1358. very rare imperial yellow-glazed dish, Chenghua six-character mark in underglaze blue within a double circle and of the period (1465-1487); 8½ in. (21.6 cm.) diam. Estimate $300,000 - $500,000Price realised USD 902,500. © Christie's Images Ltd 2010

Provenance: Wannieck, Paris, November 1928.
Bluett, December 1928.
Frances Howard Paget.
Brodie Lodge Collection, February 1946.
The Property of Mrs. Enid Lodge and of the late Brodie Lodge, Esq.; Sotheby's, London, 10 December 1968, lot 119.

ExhibitedMonochrome Porcelain of the Ming and Manchu Dynasties, Oriental Ceramic Society, London, October 1948, no. 177.
The Arts of the Ming Dynasty, Oriental Ceramic Society, London, 15 November - 14 December 1957, no. 104.

Note: This beautiful dish has a particularly fine yellow glaze, or, more precisely, a fine yellow enamel, since the piece had already been fired before the yellow was applied. Few Chenghua yellow dishes have survived in collections. A Chenghua yellow dish from the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing, is illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - 37 - Monochrome Porcelain, Hong Kong, 1999, p. 39, no. 35 (Fig.1). Four Chenghua yellow dishes are illustrated in Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of Cheng-hua Porcelain Ware, Taipei, 2003, pp. 107-9, nos. 90-93. Of these, only one is of similar form to the current dish, no. 92. Two yellow Chenghua dishes are in the Percival David Foundation, one of these (PDF 596) is of the same shape and only fractionally smaller than the current dish. The other (PDF A515) is significantly smaller and has an everted rim, in contrast to the straight rim of the current dish.

While yellow-glazed porcelains increased in popularity in the Chenghua reign, and yellow bowls, dishes and cups are reported to have been found in the excavations of the Chenghua strata at the imperial kilns, only one yellow bowl from the excavations appears to have been published. See The Emperors Broken China: Reconstructing Chenghua Porcelain, London, 1995, p. 82, no. 108. Two Chenghua yellow-glazed bowls have been published from the collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei. One, with a diameter of 20.2 cm., appears in Ming Chenghua ciqi tezhen, Taipei, 1987, no. 19, while the other, fractionally larger at 20.6 cm., appears in Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of Cheng-hua Porcelain Ware, op. cit., no. 89.

Yellow glazes, like that on the current bowl, flourished during the Ming dynasty, and are particularly admired by connoisseurs. The rich yellow glazes first became established on porcelain vessels in the early Ming, but surviving examples are rare, and it is only from the Xuande reign onwards that significant numbers have survived. It is noticeable that the yellow glazes on Xuande porcelains are generally thinner than those on the porcelains of the Chenghua reign. The beautiful current dish, with rich yellow glaze inside and out, is a fine example. The color of this glaze is sometimes called jiyouhuang, 'chicken-fat-yellow', in China, and it is a low-firing glaze, which owes its color to small amounts of iron oxide. One of the other Chinese names for this yellow glaze is jiao huang, which can be written using two different Chinese characters for jiao. One means 'elegant', but the other means 'poured'. This latter name provides a clue to the way in which the yellow glaze was applied to the vessel, suggesting that it was poured onto the vessel. This is unusual, since the majority of such glazes were applied by dipping the porcelain into a vat of glaze slurry.

In order to achieve greater clarity and a better color, some modern scientists have suggested that the finest yellow glazes were fired at a slightly higher temperature than the other yellow glazes. There were two ways of applying yellow glazes to porcelain. They were either applied directly to the pre-fired body, and fired again at a lower temperature, which tended to produce a warmer color, or the yellow was applied on top of a normal high-fired porcelain glaze, which tended to give a slightly fluid appearance, and more even coloration. The attractive yellow of the current dish appears to have been applied by the latter method.

A rare massive Longquan celadon charger

Lot 1313. A rare massive Longquan celadon charger, Yuan-Ming dynasty, 14th-15th century; 25 9/16 in. (64.9 cm.) diam. Estimate $80,000 - $120,000Price realised USD 206,500. © Christie's Images Ltd 2010

Very heavily potted with shallow rounded sides, covered all over with a glaze of olive-green tone, except for a single unglazed circle on the base burnt orange in the firing, stand.

Provenance: Ralph M. Chait Galleries, New York.

Note: Longquan celadon chargers of this large undecorated type are rare. One of comparable size (68.5 cm.) in the Idemitsu Museum of Arts is illustrated in Selected Masterpieces from the Idemitsu Collection, vol. 1, Tokyo, 1986-91, no. 135. One of smaller size (54.5 cm.) is illustrated in Mayuyama, Seventy Years, vol. 1, Tokyo, 1976, p. 174, no. 515; and another (68 cm.) was sold in these rooms, 26 March 2010, lot 1346.

 

A rare biscuit-decorated white-glazed 'dragon' bowl

Lot 1363. rare biscuit-decorated white-glazed 'dragon' bowl, Hongzhi six-character mark within a double-circle and of the period (1488-1505); 7 7/8 in. (20 cm.) diam. Estimate $20,000 - $30,000Price realised USD 80,500. © Christie's Images Ltd 2010

The interior with a central roundel incised with a five-clawed dragon reserved in the biscuit, the exterior sides similarly decorated with two further dragons striding amidst incised crested waves above a band of jagged rocks.

Provenance: W.A. Evill Collection; Sotheby's, 30 November 1965, lot 27.
Bluett, London.

Note: The dragons on this rare bowl were incised onto the surface of the bowl. They were then covered with a resist before glazing and firing the bowl, leaving the dragons reserved in the biscuit against the smooth surrounding glaze, thereby creating a subtle contrast of texture and color.
A bowl of this rare type, with Hongzhi mark, and of the period, is illustrated by J. Ayers, Chinese Ceramics in the Baur Collection, vol. I, Geneva, 1999, p. 121, no. 68 (A146). Another, in the Idemitsu Museum, is illustrated in the exhibition catalogue, In Pursuit of the Dragon, Seattle Art Museum, 1988, p. 97, no. 35. In the catalogue, the bowl is illustrated across from a bowl decorated with similar dragons (no. 34), which were originally produced using the same resist and glazing technique, but were then covered with green glaze before the bowl was refired at a lower temperature.

A rare large copper-red-decorated 'fish' dish

Lot 1364. rare large copper-red-decorated 'fish' dish, Ming dynasty, 15th-16th century; 11 in. (28 cm.) diamEstimate $10,000 - $15,000Price realised USD 23,750. © Christie's Images Ltd 2010

With shallow sides rising to the copper-bound rim, painted in deep shades of underglaze copper red on the exterior with three fish reserved against the pale blue-toned white glaze that also covers the interior and slightly convex base, the foot ring burnt orange in the firing.

Provenance: Lawrence Sickman.

ExhibitedSelections from the William and Winifred Corbin Collection of Chinese Pottery and Porcelain, Portland Art Museum, 1 - 29 March 1964, no. 39.
On loan to the Portland Art Museum, 1 June 2006 - 22 June 2010.

Note: This design of the three fish in underglaze-red originated in the Xuande period and is found mainly on stemcups, and occasionally on conical bowls. See the Xuande-marked stemcup illustrated in the Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of Selected Hsüan-te Imperial Porcelains of the Ming Dynasty, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1998, no. 81. Wares with this type of decoration continue to be found throughout the 15th century, and well into the 16th century, as evidenced by a conical bowl with the same decoration, bearing a Wanli reign mark, in the collection of the National Palace Museum, illustrated in Underglaze Red Ware of the Ming Dynasty, Hong Kong, 1963, pp. 96-7, pl. 1. However, it is interesting to note that the inclusion of copper-red fish on a dish appears to be quite rare, as stem bowls and deep, conical bowls appear to be the standard shape for vessels with this decoration. 

So beloved was this pattern that it was emulated throughout the Qing dynasty. The Qing emperors were devout antiquarians, and commissioned numerous vessels to be made in imitation of the wares of past eras. A pair of Yongzheng dishes with this pattern was included in the Hong Kong O. C. S., Exhibition of Chinese Blue and White Porcelain and Related Underglaze Red, Hong Kong, 1975, no. 129. See, also, the Yongzheng-marked conical bowl with the same decoration, sold in these rooms, 19 March 2008, lot 632.

 

Hongzhi six-character mark in underglaze blue within a double circle and of the period(1488-1505)

Lot 1360. An imperial yellow-glazed dish, Hongzhi six-character mark in underglaze blue within a double circle and of the period (1488-1505); 8 7/16 in. (21.4 cm.) diam. Estimate  $8,000 - $12,000© Christie's Images Ltd 2010

The well-potted, rounded sides rising from a slightly tapering foot ring, covered inside and out with a glaze of deep lemon-yellow tone.

Exhibited: On loan to the Portland Art Museum, 1 June 2006 - 22 June 2010; exhibited 2007-2010.

 

A Longquan celadon drum-shaped garden seat

Lot 1315. A Longquan celadon drum-shaped garden seat, Ming dynasty, 15th-16th century; 14¾ in. (37.5 cm.) high. Estimate  $6,000 - $8,000Price realised USD 5,625. © Christie's Images Ltd 2010

The sides carved with a broad frieze of winged dragons and phoenixes amdist undulating peony scroll set between further bands of foliate meander, the slightly domed top carved with a phoenix in flight amidst peony scroll, covered all over in a glaze of sea-green tone stopping above the foot which has burnt red in the firing.

Property from the collection of Philip Wood, San Francisco.

 

An unusual pale underglaze-blue decorated white-glazed bottle vase

Lot 1367. An unusual pale underglaze-blue decorated white-glazed bottle vase, 17th century; 6¾ in. (17.2 cm.) high. Estimate  $3,000 - $5,000Price realised USD 3,250. © Christie's Images Ltd 2010

With compressed globular body below the tall, narrow neck, the body incised with a single dragon chasing a pearl, all picked out in pale shades of underglaze blue in contrast to the soft white glaze.

Provenance: David Weber Collection; Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, 13-14 November 1958, lot 169.

ExhibitedSelections from the William and Winifred Corbin Collection of Chinese Pottery and Porcelain, Portland Art Museum, 1 - 29 March 1964, no. 65.
On loan to the Portland Art Museum, 1 June 2006 - 22 June 2010; exhibited 2007-2010.

Christie's. Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, 16 - 17 September 2010, New York