A rare blue and white circular plaque, Chenghua period (1465-1487)

Lot 1477. A rare blue and white circular plaque, Chenghua period (1465-1487); 11½ in. (29.3 cm.) diam. Estimate USD 60,000 - USD 80,000Price realised USD 92,500. © Christie's Images Ltd 2011

Finely painted with a scene of three scholars and their two attendants, one holding a book, the other holding a qin, surrounded by trees, the top of a pavilion emerging from behind clouds in the distance, all surrounded by a double-line border, wood stand.

NoteThis beautifully painted circular plaque was probably intended to be inset into a screen or other item of furniture. It has the fine porcelain body, unctuous glaze and refined cobalt blue painting typical of the mature Chenghua style. The subject matter, the style of painting and the quality of body, glaze and cobalt all suggest that the plaque was made in the latter part of the Chenghua reign. This period from 1481 to 1487 was the period in which the finest Chenghua porcelains were produced, and as the archaeologist and scholar Liu Xinyuan has noted in A Legacy of Chenghua, Hong Kong, 1993, p. 87, the underglaze blue wares are painted "in a softly elegant style which typifies the period". This was also a period in which Buddhism once more came to prominence under the influence of Tibetan lamas at court.

It is significant, therefore, that in the distance, behind the figures, on the current plaque the top of a temple pagoda rises above the clouds, topped by a flaming jewel and with a bell suspended from one corner of its upper eaves. It is also significant that several aspects of the composition relate to other Chenghua blue and white porcelains depicting figures in a landscape. The unusual treatment of the clouds in which the upper edges, rather than the lower edges, of the clouds are outlined and then highlighted with a blue wash above the outline can also be seen on a Chenghua blue and white 'boys bowl' in the collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei, illustrated in Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of Ch'eng-hua Porcelain Ware, Taipei, 2004, p. 45, no. 19. A virtually identical bowl, with a similar treatment of clouds, excavated from the late Chenghua stratum at the imperial kilns at Jingdezhen is illustrated in A Legacy of Chenghua, op. cit., pp. 234-5, no. C73. Another unusual feature on the current plaque may also be compared with a similar feature on another 'boys bowl' in the collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei illustrated in the Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of Ch'eng-hua Porcelain Ware, op. cit., p. 47, no. 21. This is the tree with bare branches, which appears on the left-hand side of the plaque and center right of the bowl.

The delicate use of the brush and the well-composed scene on the current plaque recall a rectangular Chenghua plaque from the du Boulay Collection sold by Bonham's, London, in November 2003. Both plaques are fine examples of the porcelain painter's skill in the 1480s  

Christie's. Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art Part I & II, 15 September 2011, New York