A superb large blue and white brush pot, Chongzhen period, circa 1640


Lot 3533. A superb large blue and white brush pot, Chongzhen period, circa 1640. Estimate $100,000 – $150,000. Price realised USD 197,000. Photo Christie’s Image Ltd 2015 

The sturdily potted brush pot is of cylindrical form and is decorated on the exterior in rich tones of underglaze blue with a continuous scene from The Romance of the Three Kingdoms depicting Emperor Xian and Dong Cheng. The landscape extends around the other side of the vessel to show a painterly view of mountains rising from rolling waves, all between incised bands of foliage and waves. The flat base is unglazed. 8 1/8 in. (20.5 cm.) high. Lot 3533

Provenance: Spink & Son, Ltd., London, 1984.
Collection of Julia and John Curtis.

Literature: Julia B. Curtis, Chinese Porcelains of the Seventeenth Century: Landscapes, Scholars’ Motifs and Narratives, New York, 1995, pp. 144-145, no. 61.
Julia B. Curtis, « La porcelaine chinoise de Transition, » La porcelaine chinoise de Transition: et ses influences sur la céramique japonaise, proche-orientale et européenne, Geneva, 1998, no. 3.

Exhibited: China Institute Gallery, New York, Chinese Porcelains of the Seventeenth Century: Landscapes, Scholars Motifs and Narratives, 22 April – 5 August 1995.
Asia Society, New York, The Artful Recluse: Painting, Poetry, and Politics in 17th-Century China, 6 March – 2 June 2013 (not illustrated).

Notes: The painting of the scene on this brush pot is particularly fine and is taken from the historical novel San Guo Zhi Yan Yi (The Romance of the Three Kingdoms), attributed to Luo Guanzhong, and first published in the 14th century. It purports to chronicle events from AD 169 to 280, which was a particularly turbulent era in China’s history, encompassing the end of the Han dynasty and the Three Kingdoms period. It is regarded as one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature, and is a mammoth work of some 800,000 characters, with a cast of almost 1,000, mostly historical, dramatis personae in its 120 chapters.

The episode that appears on this brush pot depicts Emperor Xian (r. 189-220), who is being held as a virtual hostage by the warlord Cao Cao, and is shown handing over a belt to the loyal Dong Cheng in the presence of Cao Cao’s spies. Inside the belt is hidden an imperial edict written in blood. Later in the story, Dong Cheng enters into a conspiracy with Liu Bei, Zhong Ji and Wang Fu to assassinate Cao.