A blue and white ovoid jar, Chongzhen period, circa 1640


Lot 855. A large blue and white ovoid jar, Chongzhen period, circa 1640; 6 7/8 in. (17.4 cm.) highEstimate: USD 15,000 - USD 25,000. Price realised USD 21,250© Christie's 2021

The jar is decorated in bright cobalt blue with a continuous scene depicting the 'Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove', below the neck decorated with pendent leaves.

Provenance: E. & J. Frankel, New York (by repute).

Note: The decoration on this striking jar depicts The Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove. This group of eccentric scholars is believed to have met in the 3rd century AD during the Three Kingdoms period in a bamboo grove in Shanyang, located in present-day Henan province. The famous gathering was a retreat from the political and social chaos of the period following the fall of the Han dynasty in AD 220. They came together to write poetry, compose music, engage in philosophical discussions, and drink wine, away from the intrigues of the court. They became symbols of the struggle of scholars against corruption, dynastic usurpation, restrictive Confucian rules of propriety, and magical Daoism..

The group was composed of Xi Kang, Liu Ling, Ruan Ji, Ruan Xian, Xiang Xiu, Wang Rong and Shan Tao. On the jar, Ruan Xian can be seen seated facing outward playing the stringed lute, an instrument that now bears his name, ruan. Xi Kang, (AD 223-262), also known as Ji Kang, is often considered the leader of the group, and the bamboo grove in which the group met was reportedly near his home. In addition to being a philosopher and author, Xi Kang was a skilled exponent of the guqin and composed music for that instrument.

As cultural symbols of resistance, in the 17th century they became models for the Ming dynasty yimin (leftover subjects) and were popular subjects in the arts of the 17th century, when, as Julia Curtis has noted, portraits of celebrated men of letters of the past frequently appeared on porcelains (See Curtis, ‘La porcelaine chinoise de Transition’, La porcelaine chinoise de Transition et ses influences sur la céramique japonaise, proche-oriental et européenne, Geneva, 1998, no. 8). Curtis has also pointed out that within a century of their own life-times, the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove “had become role models to the Chinese specifically for resisting the tyranny of a usurping dynasty” (See Curtis, ‘Decorative Schemes for new markets: the Origins and Use of Narrative Themes on 17th-Century Chinese Porcelain’, International Ceramics Fair and Seminar, London, 1997, pp. 20 and 22 and fig.4). They were seen as heroes who “had resisted the political and moral pressures of their times” (ibid.). This theme was a popular motif in many different media, including jade, bamboo, porcelain and painting, such as the handscroll by Chen Hongshou (1598-1652), sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 29 November 2009, lot 816.

Christie's. Important Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, New York, 23-24 september 2021