A tianbai anhua-decorated bowl, Yongle period (1403-1425)

Lot 1178. A tianbai anhua-decorated bowl, Yongle period (1403-1425), 8 3/8 in. (21.2 cm.) diam. Estimate USD 40,000 - USD 60,000. Unsold. © Christie's Images Ltd 2017

The bowl is incised on the exterior with a continuous floral leafy scroll beneath a band of key fret at the rim, and on the interior with floral sprays in the central medallion surrounded by radiating vertical ribs in well, all under a clear 'sweet-white' glaze which also covers the base.

NoteThe distinctive tianbai 'sweet white' glaze seen on the present bowl appears to have first been used on fine imperial porcelains of the Yongle reign. Indeed, it is porcelains with this type of glaze that predominate among the finds from the early Yongle stratum at Jingdezhen. The 'sweet white' glaze is quite different from earlier white glazes as it contains a mass of very tiny bubbles. These have two main effects. Firstly, some of them burst on the surface of the glaze leaving minute holes, like pin-pricks, which give the glaze a slight 'orange-peel' effect, and makes it appear glossy, rather than glassy. Secondly the tiny bubbles held within the glaze refract and scatter the light, giving the glaze a soft, lustrous, appearance that has been likened to white jade. The body of these tianbai porcelains was also very fine and white, and could be fired at a high temperature which enhanced its translucency. Such porcelains seem to have especially appealed to the Emperor Yongle, who was known for his love of white, and who on one occasion rejected most of the gifts offered to him but retained only those items made of white jade.

The decoration, known as anhua (‘secret decoration’), which was also an innovation of the Yongle period, was achieved by incising the design with a very fine point into the body, beneath the glaze. Such decoration is almost invisible from a distance, but was intended to be appreciated only by those fortunate enough to examine the piece at close quarters. 

A very similar Yongle tianbai bowl, from the Falk Collection, was sold at Christie's New York, 16 October 2001, lot 132.

A Fine Early Ming White-Glazed Bowl with Incised and Anhua Decoration, Lianci, Yongle period (1403-1425)

A Fine Early Ming White-Glazed Bowl with Incised and Anhua Decoration, Lianci, Yongle period (1403-1425), 8 1/4in. (21cm.) diam, from the Falk Collection no. 249. Sold for USD 110,500 at Christie's New York, 16 October 2001, lot 132. © Christie's Images Ltd 2001

An Early Ming White-Glazed Anhua-decorated Bowl, Lianzi wan, Yongle period (1403-1425)

An Early Ming White-Glazed Anhua-decorated Bowl, Lianzi wan, Yongle period (1403-1425), 8 in. (20.4 cm.) diam. Sold for USD 158,500 at Christie's New York, 13 - 14 September 2012, lot 1416. © Christie's Images Ltd 2012

A fine large early Ming anhua-decorated white-glazed bowl, lianziwan, Yongle period (1403-1425)

A fine large early Ming anhua-decorated white-glazed bowl, lianziwan, Yongle period (1403-1425), from the Carl Kempe Collection, 8 1/8 in. (20.7 cm.) diam. Sold for HKD 4,840,000 at Christie's Hong Kong, 3 June 2015, lot 3122. © Christie's Images Ltd 2015

Christie's. Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, 14 - 15 September 2017, New York