Lot 1361. A very rare imperial blue-glazed anhua-decorated shallow dish, Xuande six-character incised mark within a double circle and of the period (1426-1435); 7 15/16 in. (20.2 cm.) diam. Estimate 60,000 - USD 80,000. Price realised USD 254,500. © Christie's Image Ltd 2010
With shallow sides rising to a slightly flared rim, finely incised in the center with three wispy clouds, the exterior covered with a deep, rich blue glaze, the interior and convex base glazed white.
Exhibited: On loan to the Portland Art Museum, 1 June 2006 - 22 June 2010.
Note: It is generally agreed by connoisseurs that the most magnificent blue glazes of the Ming dynasty were those made in the Xuande reign, and this rare dish from the Corbin Collection, with its beautiful depth of color, demonstrates why this is so. Xuande blue glazes are often considerably thicker than those of other periods, giving them a richness of color and texture. In this reign period fine cobalt blue- glazed porcelain dishes were made either with blue on the exterior and white on the interior, as on the current dish, or with the blue glaze both inside and out.
A dish in the National Palace Museum, Taipei is of the same shape and size as the Corbin dish, and is also blue on the exterior and white inside. It too has an incised Xuande mark (see National Palace Museum, Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of Selected Hsüan-te Imperial Porcelains of the Ming Dynasty, Taipei, 1998, pp. 386-7, no. 166). (Fig.1) On the interior is an impressed design of two dragons. A somewhat smaller Xuande dish in the collection of the Percival David Foundation, London, shares a similar profile to the current dish and that in the National Palace Museum, and has a blue exterior and white interior. The David Foundation piece also has an incised Xuande mark on the base, and incised clouds under the glaze on the interior. Careful examination of the David Foundation dish also reveals, almost invisible anhua slip-painted dragons around the sides (see Illustrated Catalogue of Ming and Qing Monochrome Wares in the Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, London, rev. ed. 1989, pp. 12-3, no. 511).
The application of fine blue glaze to the exterior of a vessel and white to the interior was not restricted to dishes in the Xuande reign. Excavations carried out in the Xuande strata at the Ming Imperial kilns have revealed a number of other vessel forms that were produced with this arrangement of colors. A stem bowl excavated at Zhushan in 1988 is illustrated in Xuande Imperial Porcelain excavated at Jingdezhen, Chang Foundation, Taipei, 1998, p. 57 and p. 228, no. 52-2, while a straight-rimmed bowl excavated at Zhushan in 1984 is illustrated ibid., pp. 110 and 280, no. 112-2.
The wonderful sapphire blue glazes of the Xuande reign have been given many names in China, including baoshilan, meaning 'sapphire blue', literally 'precious stone blue', jilan and jiqing, both meaning 'blue of the sky after rain', and jilan - using a different ji character, meaning 'sacrificial blue'. The latter name was used because, following the Hongwu Emperor's 1369 edict requiring porcelains to be used on the Imperial altars, certain colors were adopted for certain altars, and blue was used in imperial rituals at the Tiantan (Altar of Heaven).
In order to achieve really beautiful blue glazes the finest cobalt had to be used. Although better preparation methods meant that Chinese cobalt, potangqing, began to be used at the imperial kilns in the Xuande reign, the very expensive cobalt imported from the Middle East was still desired for spectacular blue glazes. The Ming Shi Lu (Veritable Records of the Ming) records an exchange between the Xuande Emperor and his protocol officer in 1431, in regard to a suitable reward for an envoy from Samarkand, who had brought tribute of generous quantities of what appears to be cobalt. The emperor insisted that the envoy be lavishly rewarded (see Urban Council Hong Kong, Imperial Porcelain of the Yongle and Xuande Periods Excavated from the Site of the Ming Imperial Factory at Jingdezhen, Hong Kong, 1989, pp. 73-4).
Christie's. Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, New York, 16 - 17 September 2010