A fine and very rare early Ming tianbai-glazed stembowl, Yongle period (1403-1424)

Lot 3822. A fine and very rare early Ming tianbai-glazed stembowl, Yongle period (1403-1424); 6 in. (15.2 cm.) diam. Estimate HKD 700,000 - HKD 900,000. Price Realized HKD 860,000© Christie's Images Ltd. 2011

The bowl is finely potted with deep rounded sides flaring at the rim and supported on a slightly splayed hollow stem base, covered overall with an even milky-white transparent glaze, box.

ProvenanceChristie's Hong Kong, 27 October 2003, lot 607.

Note: The soft, unctuous, so-called tianbai, 'sweet-white', glaze on the current stembowl appears to have been developed in the Yongle reign. This may have been in response to the Emperor's particular fondness for white vessels. This preference for white porcelains can clearly be seen in the results of excavations at the imperial kilns, where more than ninety percent of the excavated porcelains from the Yongle strata are white. The 'sweet white' glaze bears a strong resemblance to fine white jade and it is possible that this was the intention, since palace records note that on one occasion the emperor returned all the elaborate and costly gifts presented to him, keeping only those made of plain white jade.

There are a number of published examples of anhua-decorated Yongle stembowls, with and without marks. There appear to be no published examples of undecorated stembowls from the Yongle period, although undecorated tianbai or 'sweet white' wares do exist, as mentioned by Geng Baochang, Ming Qing Ciqi Jianding, Forbidden City Press, 1993, p. 36. Evidence from excavation at Jingdezhen indicates that stembowls without decoration were produced; cf. Imperial Porcelains of the Yongle and Xuande Periods Excavated from the Site of the Ming Imperial Factory at Jingdezhen, Hong Kong, 1989, p. 84, where a similar stembowl bearing an anhua Yongle mark is illustrated, p. 85, no. 1. 

Christie's. Important Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, 1 June 2011, Convention Hall