An Extremely Rare Copper-Red Ewer and Cover, Yuan or Early Ming Dynasty, 14th Century

Lot 36. An Extremely Rare Copper-Red Ewer and Cover, Yuan or Early Ming Dynasty, 14th Century; 13cm.,5118 in. Estimate 9,000,000-12,000,000 HKD. Lot sold 11,300,000 HKD  (1,451,824 USD). Photo Sotheby's

the smali pear-shaped ewer resting on a slightly splayed foot, set with a curved spout opposite an arched handle attached to the body with two knobs of clay at the base and an eyelet on top for attaching to the eyelet on the domed cover, the cover fitted with a cylindrical ring on the interior for a secure fit to the ewer, ail beiow a bud-shaped knop, incised on the ewer and curling around its sides with a five-clawed dragon, surrounded by flames, with incised pendant-petal lappets enciosing foliate motifs and pearis on the cover, ail beneath a thick, uneveniy appiied glaze of dark Iiver-red, draining to white at edges and luting line on the body, the interior glazed white.

Provenance: Collection of Frederick M. Mayer.
Christie’s London, 24th June 1974, lot 79.
Spink & Son, London.

Exhibited: Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, The British Museum, London, 1994.
Evolution to Perfection. Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection/Evolution vers la perfection. Céramiques de Chine de la Collection Meiyintang, Sporting d’Hiver, Monte Carlo, 1996, cat. no. 106.

Literature: Anthony du Boulay, Christie’s Pictorial History of Chinese Ceramics, London, 1984, p. 158, pI. 1.
Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, London, 1994-2010, vol. 2, no. 651.
Sarah Wong, ‘A Jiajing YelIow-glazed Porcelain Ewer and Cover’, Fiftieth Anniversary Exhibition: Twelve Chinese Masterworks, Eskenazi, London, 2010, p. 32, fig. 4.

Red Dragon for a Connoisseur's Desk
Regina Krahl

SmaIl pear-shaped ewers of this shape are documented to have been made continuously from the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368) to the Jiajing period (1522-66) and have experienced a revival in the Kangxi reign (1662-1722) cf the Qing dynasty, yet very few examples survive and only one other copper-red piece appears te be recorded, in the Palace Museum, Beijing, besides fragmentary discarded examples, excavated at the Jingdezhen imperial kiin sites. In fact, extremely few copper-red glazed or decorated vessels of any kind appear to have passed the strict quality controls at the imperial manufactories.

These small ewers may have been used for various purposes. A use as a water dropper for the scholar’s desk is suggested by Jiang Jianxin (Jingdezhen chutu Ming Xuandeguanyaociqi/Xuande Imperial Porcelain Excavated at Jingdezhen, Chang Foundation, Taipei, 1998, p. 217),since similar vessels are sometimes depicted in paintings together with writing utensils, e.g. apparently in the nearly contemporary painting Elegant Gathering in the Apricot Garden by XieHuan (C. 1370— c. 1450); Sarah Wong ÇA Jiajing YeIlow-glazed Porcelain Ewer and Cover’, Fiftieth Anniversary Exhibition: Twelve Chinese Masterworks, Eskenazi, London, 2010, P. 36) suggests ausage at table to dispense vinegar, as one such piece is recorded in a Ming imperial order; and a use as wine ewer has often been assumed.

The proportions of these ewers vary slightly according to the period. The development of this forrn over Urne is recorded in Geng Baochang, Ming Qing ciqi jianding [Appraisal of Ming and Qing porcelain], Hong Kong, 1993, where une drawings ofthe changing proportions are reproduced, p. 24, fig. 37 and various types are listed, p.25. Their development is also traced and discussed in detail in Wong, op.cit., pp. 31-7, where several related vessels are illustrated.

Only one closely comparable red-glazed piece appears to be preserved, a ewer and cover in the Palace Museum, Beijing, of similar proportions, decoration and glaze, with the white body similarly showing through at the rims, luting une and foot, and equally decorated with an incised dragon, see The Compiete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Monochrome Porcelain, Hong Kong, 1999, pI. 1, where t is attributed to the Yuan dynasty (fig. O). This piece and the present ewer appear to be among the earliest examples of this type, the red glaze being rnost closely related to that ofthe late Yuan, or the Hongwu period (1368-98) in the early Ming dynasty.

Copper-red ewer with incised dragon, Yuan Dynasty, Palace Museum, Beijing

Copper-red ewer with incised dragon, Yuan Dynasty, Palace Museum, Beijing.

The waste heaps of the Ming imperial kilns at Jingdezhen appear to have yielded no sherds cf similar ewers prior to the Yongle reign, but a fragmentary red-glazed ewer with incised dragons was discovered in the Yongle stratum, see Jingdezhen Zhushan chutu Yongle guanyao ciqi [Yongle Imperial porcelain excavated at Zhushan, Jingdezhen], Capital Museum, Beijing, 2007, pI. 29 (fig. 1), together with a red ewer with reserved white dragons, pI. 30; and an undecorated monochrome red ewer of Xuande mark and period is published in Jingdezhen chutu Ming Xuande guanyao ciqi, op.cit., cat. no. 43-1 (fig. 2).

Copper-red ewer with incised dragon

Copper-red ewer with incised dragon. From the Yongle stratum of the Ming imperial kiln site, Jingdezhen.

Copper-red ewer, Mark and Period of Xuande

Copper-red ewer, Mark and Period of Xuande. From the Ming imperial kiln site, Jingdezhen

The Yongle stratum further yielded dragon-decorated examples in monochrome white, painted in undergiaze red, and in green-and-yellow, see Jingdezhen Zhushan chutuYongle guanyao ciqi, op.cit., pIs 8, 53 and 109; while an undecorated, unmarked monochrome yellow ewer, several Xuande-marked blue-and-white and a bue-and-turquoise ewer of this form were found in the Xuande stratum; see Jingdezhen chutu Ming Xuande guanyao ciqi, op.cit., ps 43- 2, 44-1, 2, 3; and Jingdezhen chutu Mingdai yuyao ciqi [Porcelains from the Ming imperial kilns excavated at Jingdezhenj, Beijing, 2009, pI. 70. AIl these examples had been deliberately broken, presurnably because they were considered flawed.

Compare also a brown-glazed ewer, attributed to the Hongwu period, but of different proportions and a monochrome white example attributed to the Yongle period, both excavated in Beijing and today in the Capital Museum, illustrated in Shoudu Bowuguan cang ci xuan [Selection of porcelains from the Capital Museum}, Beijing, 1991, pis 87 and 94; and another dark brown ewer attributed to the Yongie period, sold in these rooms, 26th October 1993, lot 55. A monochrome white ewer of the Yongle period in the Palace Museum, Beijing, is published in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Monochrome Porcelain, Hong Kong, 1999, pI. 102.

Sotheby's. The Meiyintang Collection, Part II - An Important Selection of Chinese Porcelains. Hong Kong 5 october 2011