Lot 13. A very rare blue and white bell, Incised daming Xuande zhongxia yue nian zao, Tianqi (1621-1627); 7 7/8 in. (20 cm.) high. Estimate 8,000 - GBP 10,000. Price realised GBP 16,730. © Christie's Images Ltd 2002.
Applied above with a double dragon hanging loop and finely painted with double-phoenix roundels and clouds in spandrels, the rim with scrolling chrysanthemums, all under a fine glaze with a surface reminiscent of the texture of fine orange skin, glaze hairline.
Provenance: Alfred Clark Collection, no. 586
Kenneth Robert Malcolm Collection, no.98.
Note: A fine and very rare doucai bowl, bearing a Yongzheng mark and dating from the period, also from the Kenneth Robert Malcolm Collection, was sold in our Hong Kong Rooms, 30 April 2000, lot 592.
This porcelain bell decorated in underglaze cobalt blue is very rare. Very few pieces of this form are known, but the style of decoration relates closely to that seen on certain finely potted vessels dating to the first half of the 17th century, which often bear apocryphal Xuande or Chenghua reign marks. The style is characterised by the use of soft blue, very fine outlines, pale washes and small-scale motifs.
The only published bell of the same size and form appears to be the example in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing (The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - 35 - Blue and White Porcelain with Underglaze Red II, Commercial Press, Hong Kong, 2000, pp. 232-3, no. 212). The decorative scheme is very similar on both bells, as is the style of painting with very fine outlines and soft washes. Around the rim is a distinctive floral scroll above a single encircling line and below a double line. Above the main decorative band is a single encircling line, above which is a white band, a double line and then a delicate design of flowers and butterflies in the case of the current bell and delicate scrolls in the case of the Beijing bell. On the top of the bells is a pierced circular hole surrounded by a single line. The handle of each bell is formed by a double-headed dragon with arched back. The creature on the current bell, although of the same basic form as the Beijing example, is slightly more leonine. The only major difference in the decoration of the two bells is in the main decorative band. The Beijing bell has a design of the eighteen luohans, while the current bell has four double phoenix roundels alternating with two registers of scrolling devices.
The current bell also bears an inscription incised into the porcelain body of the white band around the shoulder reading: Xuande zhongxia yue nian zao (Made in the Xuande reign second summer month). The Palace Museum example has an incised inscription of the same style reading: Da Ming Tianqi yuan nian mengxia yue zao (Made in the first summer month of the first year of the Tianqi reign of he Ming dynasty ). This would seem a reliable date, and it is almost certain that the curent bell also dates to the Tianqi reign (1621-27).
Christie's. Chinese Ceramics & Chinese Export Ceramics & Works of Art, London, 12 November 2002