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16 juillet 2016

Chinese Porcelain bowl, Ming dynasty, Jiajing period (1540-1590) with Ottoman mounts (1570-1600)

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Porcelain bowl with relief, underglaze blue, overglaze turquoise and iron-red enamels and with gold and gem overlay, Ming dynasty, Jiajing period (1540-1590), with Ottoman gold and ruby mounts (1570-1600); 1904,0714.1 © Trustees of the British Museum

Height: 6 centimetres. Diameter: 12 centimetres. This bowl has rounded sides and a raised 'mantou' centre and stands on a straight foot ring. The cavetto is decorated in relief beneath a blue-white glaze with some of the Eight Treasures of Buddhism, including the lidded jar, conch shell, parasol, wheel of the law and canopy, resting on 'lingzhi' (fungus) and with other auspicious plants. Outside are four large turquoise enamel roundels outlined with red enamel and the foot with turquoise enamel shows traces of 'kinrande' gilding. The base bears a spindly four-character mark in a double ring. Further ornamented with low-grade rubies set in gold mounts. Over the turquoise roundels six rubies arranged around a central ruby are set into leaf-shaped gold fittings with raised borders around the stones to keep them in place. Connecting the stones are interlaced gold lines. Inbetween the roundels are two single rubies set in gold leaf-shaped mounts, the upper one with connecting arches to the roundels on either side.

The Eight Treasures of Buddhism derive from early Indian royal ceremony. The conch shell evokes the call to prayer, the wheel symbolizes the prayer wheel of the law taught by Buddha, the canopy protects all living things, the parasol shades all medicinal herbs, the lotus symbolizes purity, the lidded jar perfect wisdom, the fish signify release and the knot eternal life.

The method of over-decoration, by first chiselling the surface and then filling in with niello and jewels, follows a style more familiar perhaps from Turkish Ottoman jades and crystal. For example, an early seventeenth-century Ottoman jade plaque from a quiver is similarly decorated with jewels - rubies and turquoises - and with gilt tracing. The plaque was given to the British Museum by Sir Hans Sloane prior to the Museum's founding in 1753. Chinese porcelains decorated with inlays of precious and semi-precious stones set in both gilt metal and gold are a special feature of the Topkapi Saray collection in Istanbul. This work was executed in the palace and few pieces left the treasuries there. The present bowl was indeed given by the Turkish Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II (reigned 1876-1909) to Sir Austen Henry Layard in 1877, when he was ambassador at the Porte (i.e. Istanbul). He later passed it on to his aunt, Lady Charlotte Schreiber, from whom George Salting is said to have acquired it; Salting later donated it to the British Museum. Porcelains ornamented in this way date, with few exceptions, to the second half of the sixteenth century and were over-decorated soon after manufacture. Another bowl of this type of identical form, mark and decoration but with slightly different arrangement of the over-decoration is in the Topkapi Saray Museum.

Hobson mentions that in the Elizabethan will of Lady Kathleen Constable, dated 1591, there is an item which may describe the present type of bowl: 'my purslane cup sett with stones, which will holde noe poison'. From this we can infer that bowls of this type were in European collections before the end of the sixteenth century, as well as in the Near East. It also indicates the status which such porcelains held and the magical properties associated with porcelain.

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