A rare blue and white jar, Guan, Yongle period (1403-1425). Photo Christie's Image Ltd 2012

The jar is potted with rounded walls and slightly waisted foot. The exterior is painted in underglaze cobalt blue, with 'heaping and piling', the sides decorated with flowers of the seasons, peony, lotus, chrysanthemum and camellia, each flower with two large blooms and some smaller flowers and buds amidst leaves on branching stems. The foot is painted with a band of overlapping leaves, the shoulder with a lappet band. 10 in. (25.5 cm.) high, fitted box. Estimate £80,000 - £120,000

明永樂 青花四季花卉紋罐

Provenance: Christie's London, 13 November 2001, lot 118.

Notes: This jar is an important precursor of the rare Xuande jars with similar decoration such as that from the Manno Art Museum sold in these Rooms, 21 June 2001, lot 88. This Yongle jar is larger than its Xuande counterpart and its floral sprays are more spread out than those on the later vessel, while the painting within the petal panels around the shoulder is less dense.

Floral sprays on vessels of various forms began to be popular on blue and white porcelains in the Hongwu reign, as can be seen from the two bowls excavated from the Hongwu stratum at the Ming Imperial kiln site in 1994, illustrated in Imperial Hongwu and Yongle Porcelain excavated at Jingdezhen, Chang Foundation, Taipei, 1996, nos. 11 and 12. The sprays became more naturalistic in the Yongle reign as shown by those in the lobed panels of the cavetto of a Yongle dish excavated from the Imperial kiln site in 1996, and illustrated inJingdezhen chutu Yuan Ming guanyao ciqi, Beijing, 1999, no. 76.

Jars of this type were popular not only with the Chinese court, but were also admired abroad. A blue and white jar with similar large floral sprays and a cover is shown with other blue and white porcelains and some metalwork being transported in a wagon drawn by a mule, in a 15th century Timurid painting from an album in the Topkapy Saray, Istanbul, illustrated by J. Carswell in Blue and White: Chinese Porcelain and Its Impact on the Western World, Chicago, 1985, title pages.

It is interesting to note that Yongle porcelains like the current example with finely painted double sprays provided the impetus not only for Xuande jars, like the Manno example and like that exhibited in Tokyo in 1977 in the Exhibition of Far Eastern Blue and White Porcelain, no.33, but for such double fruiting and floral sprays to become a feature on a number of vessel forms. Double floral sprays can be seen on the sides of an octagonal candlestick excavated from the Xuande stratum at the Imperial Ming kilns at Jingdezhen in 1982, and illustrated in Xuande Imperial Porcelain excavated at Jingdezhen, Chang Foundation, Tiapei, 1998, no. 25. Double fruiting sprays appear on a Xuande bowl in the collection of the National Palace Museum, illustrated in Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of Selected Hsan-te Imperial Porcelains in the Ming Dynasty, Taipei, 1998, pp. 148-9, no. 47. The double fruiting sprays on the bowl, like the double floral sprays on the candlestick, share with the sprays on the current Yongle jar the feature of a finial stem which looks as if it has been torn, rather than cut, from the branch.

The distincitve and well-painted overlapping plantain leaf band around the foot of the current jar, as well as the elegant depiction of the petal band around the shoulder, are mirrored on the Xuande Manno jar and on a slightly wider Xuande jar with double sprays in the collection of the National Palace Museum, published in their catalogue Special Exhibition of Early Ming Porcelains, Taipei, 1982, no. 17.

Christie's. Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art. 6 November 2012, London, King Street