Lot 91. A magnificent and very rare 'jun' mallow-shaped lavender-glazed flowerpot, Early Ming dynasty; height 7 1/2 in., 19 cm; diameter 10 3/4 in., 27.3 cm. Estimate USD 350,000 — 450,000. Lot sold USD 469,000. © Sotheby's
the superbly potted vessel of hexagonal section, the deep bracket-lobed flaring sides rising from a slightly splayed foot to a broad everted rim, covered overall with a lustrous lavender glaze, highlighted with brilliant cascades of vivid sky-blue and deep pinkish-purple, draining away from the mouth rim and between the lobes to reveal a creamy mushroom-brown tone, the interior predominantly a deep sky-blue color, the base glazed olive-brown over five pierced drainage holes and incised with the numeral san ('three') .
Provenance: Sotheby's Hong Kong, 5th November 1996, lot 721.
Note: The dating of these 'Jun' ware flower receptacles in mold-made shapes, inscribed on the base with numbers from one to ten, usually glazed in striking tones of bright blue and bright purple, has long been debated. In the past, two different schools of thought proposed datings either to the Northern Song (12th century) or to the Yuan / early Ming (14th/15th century). The Northern Song date was supported by the discovery of a mold fragment for coins inscribed with the Xuanhe reign name (1119-1125), reputedly excavated at the kiln sites together with fragments of 'numbered Jun' vessels and said to be made of the same clay. The dating of this coin mold has recently, however, been dismissed as incorrect at a conference in Shenzhen. A dating to the early Ming dynasty is therefore now largely accepted for this group of vessels, following stylistic comparisons with jardinières, vases and other flower receptacles in celadon and blue-and-white from the Longquan and Jingdezhen kilns, which are more precisely datable. Since many of these 'numbered Jun' wares are preserved in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, and the Palace Museum, Beijing, from the former Imperial collection and often inscribed with the names of Palace halls, these vessels can now be considered as Imperial flower vessels of the early Ming court.
A similar flowerpot inscribed with the same numeral san ('three') is illustrated in A Panorama of Ceramics in the Collection of the National Palace Museum. Chun Ware, Taipei, 1999, pl. 22, together with a flowerpot of the same shape but with the numeral wu ('five'), pl. 23, and one with the numeral qi ('seven'), pl. 24. Compare also two flowerpots of this type with the inscribed number qi ('seven') in the Palace Museum, Beijing, included in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the PalaceMuseum. Porcelain of the Song Dynasty (I), Hong Kong, 1996, pls. 15 and 16. Another vessel marked si ('four'), published in R.L. Hobson, The George Eumorfopoulos Collection Catalogue of Chinese, Corean and Persian Pottery and Porcelain, vol. 3, London, 1926, pl. III, no. C16, was sold in these rooms, 29th May 1940, lot 179, and is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Further two examples with the same numeral san ('three'), glazed in different shades of purple, from the J. Piermont Morgan collection, formerly in the University Museum, University of Pennsylvania, and now in the Idemitsu Museum of Arts, Tokyo, were sold in these rooms, 25th March 1975, lot 224 and 225, and are illustrated in Chinese Ceramics in the Idemitsu Collection, Tokyo, 1987, col. pl. 103.
Sotheby's. Fine Chinese Ceramics And Works Of Art, New York, 18 March 2008