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2 mars 2020

A rare late Ming blue and white gilt copper-mounted large bowl, First half of 17th century


Lot 126. A rare late Ming blue and white gilt copper-mounted large bowl, First half of 17th century; 14 in. (35.7 cm.) diamEstimate GBP 8,000 - GBP 12,000. Price realised GBP 71,700© Christie's Images Ltd 2003.

The exterior decorated with six circular panels reserved on a relief ground of key pattern, each with Arabic inscriptions between a band of honeycomb around the rim and ruyi lappets around the base, the interior with a cricket basking on rockwork beside a peony stem below a band of scrolling lotus and chrysanthemum around the rim, the base with a four-character seal mark, the mounts secured through pinned hinges and connected by petal shaped bands.

ProvenanceEdward James Collection, West Dean Park, no. 24

NoteAll the panels contain the same inscription, which can be translated as:
No God but Allah (and) Muhammad is the Prophet of Allah

This saying is known as the shahhada or profession of faith. It is one of the central tenets of Islam.

Bowls with this combination of underglaze blue painted decoration and carved lattice are unusual, and examples of this large size are especially rare. Even more rare are vessels, like the current example, which have Islamic inscriptions in the four panels on the exterior. Each panel has the same text, but the calligraphy is executed in an angular style, while the text of alternate panels is written in single, followed by double-line brushwork. There is a bowl with elaborate 17th century Ottoman mount in the Topkapi Saray Museum, Istanbul, which is decorated in similar technique to the current example (see J. Ayers & R. Krahl, Chinese Ceramics in the Topkapi Saray Museum Istanbul, Vol. II, Sotheby's Publications, London, 1986, p. 715, no. 1245, colour plate p. 462). The Istanbul bowl is considerably smaller than the current example.

The Topkapi Saray Museum has two further bowls in its collection that relate to the current vessel. These are both blue and white porcelains dating to the first half of the 17th century, but neither bear metal mounts. The first is a much smaller bowl than the current bowl, but nevertheless shares with it both the carved lattice on its exterior and the distinctive flower head and feather scroll band on the interior rim (see ibid., p. 787, no. 1527). Like the current bowl, it bears on its base a rectangular mark, reading Yu tang jia qi (Fine vessel for the Jade Hall). The second Istanbul bowl is of similar large size to the current example and also displays the distinctive floral and feather scroll around its interior rim (see ibid., p. 788, no. 1528). Interestingly a dish exhibited in Hong Kong in 1981 (see Richard S. Kilburn (ed.), Transitional Wares and Their Forerunners, Oriental Ceramic Society of Hong Kong, 1981, cat. no. 54) is decorated with this scroll and with drgaons similar to those on the Istanbul bowl. Additionally, the Hong Kong dish is dated by inscription to the first year of the Chongzhen reign, AD 1628.

A bowl of similar size to the current example is in the collection of the British Museum (see Jessica Harrison-Hall, Ming Ceramics in the British Museum, British Museum Press, London, 2001, pp. 268-9, no. 12:40). The British Museum bowl shares all the motifs and techniques of the present vessel, except in the medallions which contain depictions of geese in waterscapes. The British Museum bowl has been dated to c. 1620-44. A further example of a large blue and white bowl with carved lattice and similar minor bands is in the collection of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (see Christiaan J.A. Jörg, Chinese Ceramics in the Collection of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam - the Ming and Qing Dynasties, Philip Wilson, London, 1997, p. 64, no. 48). The medallions on the Amsterdam bowl are decorated with floral motifs. No other bowl with semi-pierced lattice and distinctive minor bands with Islamic inscriptions in the medalions appears to have been published.

A vase in the Musée Adrien-Dubouché, Limoges, is decorated around the body with circular panels containing pseudo-Arabic text in underglaze blue against of ground of semi-pierced lattice (illustrated by Daisy Lion-Goldschmidt, Ming Porcelain, Thames and Hudson, London, 1978, p. 213, no. 233). The semi-pierced, carved lattice is interesting on a number of counts. Firstly the lattice is based on the Chinese Character wan (ten thousand) or the Buddhist swastika. Secondly the technique used was a difficult one, since the bowl was thrown, painted with cobalt designs, glazed and then the lattice was cut so that the recessed lattice would be unglazed and would contrast with the glazed porcelain. This required considerable skill. The wan lattice was used on earlier porcelains either painted in underglaze-blue (see Jessica Harrison-Hall, op. cit., p. 315, no. 11:107) or fully pierced (see R. Scott and R. Kerr, Ceramic Evolution in the Middle Ming Period, Sun Tree Publishing, Singapore, 1994, p. 36, no. 76). Cutting into the sides of the vessel without completely piercing the porcelain at any point was an even more skilled technique, which produced a similar visual impression to the fully cut porcelains without necessitating the use of a metal liner. This bowl is further enhanced by a 17th century English or Dutch gilded metal mount.

Christie's. Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, including Export Art, London, 11 November 2003