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Bowl, porcelain painted in underglaze blue with the 'Three Friends of Winter', China, Ming dynasty, 16th century. Diameter: 14.3 cm, Height: 7.3 cm. C.1364-1924 © V&A Images.

Porcelain bowl with rounded sides and a tall footring. Painted in underglaze blue on the outside with a representation of the 'Three Friends of Winter': pine, bamboo and plum blossom. Inside, plum blossom in a medallion.

This bowl was made at the kilns in Jingdezhen sometime between 1550 and 1575. The body is made of porcelain clay and it is decorated under the glaze with a cobalt blue design of pine, bamboo and plum blossom. The design is commonly known as the 'Three friends of winter'. These plants are said to flourish in even the most adverse conditions and are symbols of longevity, perseverance, and integrity, all of which are associated with the virtues of a scholar-gentleman. There is a four character mark on the base of the bowl enclosed in a double roundel, which reads, 'Xing lin chun yan'. This translates as 'Spring entertainment in the apricot grove'. Marks indicating a location or purpose for use, a commendation or commemoration are common on late Ming porcelains.