A fine and very rare Ming tianbai-glazed anhua-decorated moonflask, bianping, Yongle period (1403-1424). Photo Christie's Image Ltd 2014

The elegant flask is well potted with a flattened, but slightly domed, circular lower section and a globular upper section narrowing to a short neck and a mouth contracting to match the width of the waisted area between the upper and lower sections of the vessel. The flask stands on a rectangular foot and has strap handles on either side, joining the neck and shoulders of the vessel, with petal-shaped terminals on the shoulders. Both of the circular flattened sides are bordered by 'half cash' bands, surrounding a different arabesque roundel on each side. At the centre of the arabesque roundel on one side is a yinyang symbol surrounded by petals, while on the other side at the centre is a small roundel containing alternately sized inward-pointing petals inside a triple-line circle. Each of the handle terminals is decorated with a floral spray. 11 3/4 in. (29.8 cm) high, Japanese wood box. Estimate HK$15,000,000 – HK$20,000,000 ($1,943,591 - $2,591,454). Unsold.

Provenance: Sold at Sotheby's New York, 21 September 2005, lot 63

Notes: For most connoisseurs of Chinese ceramics the so-called moonflasks are classic Chinese porcelain forms. However, the form has a surprisingly long history in Western art, although it is probable that the Chinese early Ming dynasty form was inspired either by metalwork or glass of the Islamic era. The present tianbai or 'sweet white' glazed example appears to be unique with exception of an excavated example, without the incised decoration, included in the exhibition, Imperial Hongwu and Yongle Porcelain excavated at Jingdezhen, Chang Foundation, Taipei, 1996, p. 245, no. 91. It is interesting to note that the excavated flask is almost the same size (30.1 cm. high) but lacks the oval foot ring. In addition, in the Catalogue it is noted by Wan Shufang that tianbai glazed flasks dating to the late Yongle period have an oval foot ring and are incised with an Islamic pattern similar to similarly shaped flasks decorated in underglaze blue, ibid, p. 244. Compare the pattern with a blue and white flask from the Jingguantang and Huang Ding Xuan Collections, sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 28 November 2006, lot 1512.

Compare with two similarly decorated white-glazed flasks, the first is in the collection of the Asia Society, illustrated by Denise Patry Leidy, Treasures of Asian Art: The Asia Society's Mr and Mrs John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection, New York, 1994, pl. 170; and two are in Shanghai Museum Collection, one of which is illustrated by Lu Minghua, Mingdai Guanyao Ciqi, Shanghai renmin chubanshe, 2004, p. 129, fig. 3-49. The Shanghai Museum flask is dated Xuande period but the author noted the discovery of similar flasks excavated from the Yongle stratum and at present known examples are extremely rare, ibid, p. 128.

Christie's. THROUGH CONNOISSEURS' EYES - WORKS OF ART FOR THE EMPEROR, 28 May 2014, Hong Kong - http://www.christies.com/