Lot 245. A very rare early Ming tianbai glazed anhua decorated meiping Yongle period (1403-1425); 12 5/8 in. (32.4 cm.) high. Estimate $600,000 - $800,000Price Realized $2,770,500. © Christie's Images Ltd 2008. 

The well-potted body finely incised with a broad frieze of leafy peony scroll bearing four large, full blossoms and subsidiary buds just beginning to open, set between a band of classic scroll below and a ruyi-lappet collar filled with lotus sprays on the shoulder above, all within double line borders, covered with a fine 'sweet white' glaze that continues over the mouth rim, the base and bottom of the foot left unglazed revealing the fine white body.

Provenance: Acquired prior to 1985. 

Note: This particularly rare and elegant white-glazed meiping dates to the Yongle reign (AD 1403-25). Such was the Yongle Emperor's admiration of white porcelain that excavations at the site of the imperial kilns at Jingdezhen suggest that more than 90 of the porcelains made there during his reign appear to have been white wares. It was during the Yongle reign that the famous tianbai or 'sweet white' glaze, seen on the current vase, was developed. This glaze has been admired by connoisseurs ever since for its soft, jade-like, appearance, which so perfectly complements the skilful potting and pure white porcelain body characteristic of this period. The tianbai glaze was made almost entirely of 'glaze stone' with little or no 'glaze ash' (burned limestone), and it therefore contains less calcium carbonate than the other Jingdezhen 'white' glazes. The reduction of calcium carbonate has the effect of making the fired glaze appear whiter. The tianbai glaze can perhaps be seen as the ultimate achievement of the Jingdezhen potters' experimentation with glaze stone/glaze ash balances, which had produced such differing glazes as qingbai; the glaze used with underglaze blue decoration; and the so-called Shufu glaze, largely through adjustments to the calcium carbonate content of the constituents.

The Yongle emperor's desire for white porcelain was undoubtedly due in part to his enthusiasm for Tibetan Buddhism, but may also be linked to the fact that when he was still a prince, his counsellor Yao Guangxiao suggested that he would 'put a white hat on his rank'. This was a subtle reference to the character for emperor, huang, which is made up of the character for white bai above the character for prince, wang. It was a bold suggestion, since Prince Yan was not the heir apparent. Yongle also appears to have had a genuine aesthetic appreciation for the color white, since the exterior walls of the famous 'Porcelain Pagoda' at the Bao'ensi, built in honor of his deceased parents, are covered with white-glazed bricks. This is extremely rare for a Chinese-style multi-eaved pagoda. His appreciation of pure white porcelain is made clear by his rejection of jade tribute bowls sent to him from the Islamic West in AD 1406, which he commanded to be returned with the comment: "The Chinese porcelain that I use everyday is pure and translucent, and it pleases me greatly. There is no need to use jade bowls." See Liu Xinyuan, Imperial Porcelain of the Yongle and Xuande Periods Excavated from the Site of the Ming Imperial Factory at Jingdezhen, Urban Council Hong Kong, 1989, p. 73. However, on another occasion the emperor returned other costly gifts and kept only some white jade. This may further explain his fondness for the tianbai glaze, which has a soft unctuous feel, reminiscent of fine white jade.

Christie's. FINE CHINESE CERAMICS AND WORKS OF ART. 17 September 2008, New York, Rockefeller Plaza