Lot 109. A small incised tianbai-glazed barbed dish, Ming dynasty, Yongle period (1403-1424). Diameter 7 7/8 in., 20 cm. Estimate $500,000 — 700,000. Photo: Sotheby’s.
finely potted, the center deftly incised with a fruiting branch of grape vine framed within a medallion of eight rounded lobes, the cavetto divided into eight barbed lobes, each incised with alternating fruiting and flowering floral sprigs, including peony, pomegranates, peach, lotus and chrysanthemum, the barbed everted rim with detached lingzhi sprays, the underside with alternating lingzhi and floral sprays on each lobe, all beneath a fine and smooth 'sweet white' (tianbai) glaze pooling in the incised lines to a slightly darker tone highlighting the decoration, the shallow foot ring neatly finished, the base unglazed revealing the smooth white body.
Provenance: Collection of Dr. Carl Kempe (1884-1967), one of a pair.
Sotheby’s Paris, 12th June 2008, lot 33.
Literature: Bo Gyllensvärd, Chinese Ceramics in the Carl Kempe Collection, Stockholm, 1964, no. 671.
Kinesiska Keramiska Mästerwerk. I Urval från Ulricehamns Östasiatiska Museum, Inkluderande Dr. Carl Kempes Samling/Chinese Ceramic Treasures. A Selection from Ulricehamn East Asian Museum, including The Carl Kempe Collection, Ulricehamn, 2002, pl. 862 left.
Note: The Yongle reign (1403-24) is renowned for having dramatically innovated China’s porcelain production. One of the unique creations of the reign was the ‘sweet-white’ glaze, which enabled the manufacture of the most exquisite, pure white porcelain made by the Jingdezhen imperial kilns of Jiangxi province. Since white was a ‘color’ of the utmost importance for ritual use in Buddhist ceremonies, which the Yongle Emperor strongly patronized, the refinement of white porcelain vessels was of particular interest to the court.
Yongle porcelains with ‘sweet-white’ (tianbai) glaze are not simply porcelains without painted decoration. If the ideal glaze for blue-and-white porcelain is clear, colorless and translucent, i.e. basically invisible, to bring out the blue decoration to best effect, the beauty of a monochrome white piece depends on the tone, sheen and feel of its glaze. Yongle white wares are glazed with a particularly lush and mellow, slightly opaque, tactile white glaze, that was not used for any other wares, which gives the porcelain a warm, opulent presence. Nigel Wood (Chinese Glazes. Their Origins, Chemistry and Recreation, London, 1999, p.66) describes the ‘sweet-white’ glaze as consisting almost entirely of ‘glaze stone’ with little or no ‘glaze ash’, different from white glazes employed in other periods and from glazes used for contemporary blue-and-white.
Sweet-white porcelains were made side-by-side with blue-and-white wares and largely share their shapes and designs. On the present dish the charming design of grape vines within a lobed panel and surrounding fruit, flower and lingzhi sprays is delicately incised into the body before application of the glaze, but is distinct and clear to see, as if drawn with a pen. For a blue-and-white counterpart of the same design, see a fragmentary dish recovered from the waste heaps of the Ming imperial kilns, included in the exhibition Imperial Hongwu and Yongle Porcelain Excavated at Jingdezhen, Chang Foundation, Taipei, 1996, cat. no. 55, where it is suggested that such dishes may have been used as stands for small bracket-lobed cups, an example of which, cat. no. 56, is illustrated together with it; the early Yongle stratum of the Ming imperial kiln sites have also brought to light an undecorated ‘sweet-white’ dish of this form and size, which may have been rejected due to its glaze crazing, ibid., cat. no. 115.
Yongle ‘sweet-white’ dishes of this form in the imperial collection were selected in the Kangxi period (1662-1722) to be decorated in the imperial enameling workshops that the Emperor had set up inside the Forbidden City in Beijing. A similar dish with such later palace enameling, probably roughly following a similar engraved pattern underneath, was included in the exhibition Qing gongzhong falangcai ci tezhan/Special Exhibition of Ch’ing Dynasty Enamelled Porcelains of the Imperial Ateliers, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1992, cat. no. 1, together with a slightly smaller plain white Yongle dish of this form with incised camellia design, cat. no. 2; a slightly smaller plain white dish with incised floral design was also included in the exhibition Shi yu xin: Mingdai Yongle huangdi de ciqi/Pleasingly Pure and Lustrous: Porcelains from the Yongle Reign (1403-1424) of the Ming Dynasty, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 2017, catalogue p. 44.
The pair to this dish, also from the Kempe collection, was sold in our Paris rooms, 12th June 2008, lot 41; a similar dish from the collection of Mrs. Nora Lundgren, now in the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm, was included in the Mostra d’Arte Cinese/Exhibition of Chinese Art, Palazzo Ducale, Venice, 1954, cat. no. 589; another is illustrated in Denise Patry Leidy, Treasures of Asian Art: The Asia Society’s Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection, New York, 1994, pl. 16; and one further dish of this design was sold at Christie’s London, 13th October 1969, lot 101.
Dr. Carl Kempe was an important Swedish collector whose interest in Chinese art started around 1930. He visited China in 1935 and soon after began to concentrate on Chinese monochrome white ceramics of all types and periods. He also developed a pioneering interest in Chinese gold and silver. The catalogues of his collection, written by Dr. Bo Gyllensvärd, have become standard reference works. He kept his extensive collection in a museum-style display at Ekolsund Castle, a former royal castle he had restored. He lent over a dozen pieces to the ground-breaking International Exhibition of Chinese Art, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1935-36. Most of his collection was sold in 2008 in a series of sales at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, London and Paris.
Sotheby's. MING: Luminous Dawn of Empire, New York, 20 mars 2018, 10:00 AM