A Blue and White ‘Children At Play’ Jar, Mark and Period of Jiajing

Lot 3583. A Blue and White ‘Children At Play’ Jar, Mark and Period of Jiajing (1522-1566). H 34.5cm. Sold for HKD 9,800,000 (Estimate HKD 6,800,000 9,800,000). © Poly Auction Hong Kong Limited 2022

The jar has a straight mouth, a short neck, broad shoulders, and a recessed, rounded foot; the entire body painted in blue and white with a scene of children playing. The children are in different and lively poses, sitting in clusters of three or two, either diligently studying or playing, some dragging a cart, others fighting crickets, and others riding a bamboo horse, all of them vivid and lively in their playful postures. The shoulders are decorated with a band of swastikas on a brocade base, and the equilateral openings are painted with folded flowers and fruits, while the foot is decorated with lotus petals. The whole is an expression of the carefree world of the child, which is in keeping with the indifference of the traditional Confucian-educated Chinese literati and the desirelessness of Taoism. The pattern of the decoration is sparse and dense, the painting is rich and uncluttered, and the workmanship is archaic and simple, with a fine glaze and a thick, rich layer of glaze, and the blue and white colours are brilliant and pure.

Provenance1. Henry M. Knight (1903-1971) Collection
2. Meiyintang Collection, Switzerland.

ExhibitionOosterse Schatten: 4000 Jaar Aziatische Kunst, Dutch National Museum, Amsterdam, 1954, no. 369.

Published1. Kang Ruijun, The Meiyintang Collection of Chinese Ceramics, Volume IV (I), London, 1994-2010, pp. 178-181, no. 1695
2. Eskenazi, A Dealer's Hand: The Chinese Art World Through the Eyes of Giuseppe Eskenazi, London, 2012, p. 325, plate 369.

Note: During the Jiajing period, blue and white were used as the raw material for the bright and vivid colours. This is a heavy-bodied piece with a rich, lustrous glaze that is characteristic of the Jiajing period. The style of porcelain painting of the Jiajing dynasty was notable for its antiquity, its childishness, its spontaneity and its exaggeration, and its influence on the style of porcelain painting of later generations. During the Jiajing period, there was a marked increase in the number of representations of infant play compared to the previous dynasty. The subject matter, which represents the innocence of children, is in keeping with the traditional Confucian-educated Chinese literati's idea of tranquillity, as well as with the Taoist idea of desirelessness, which the Wanli emperor revered as a characteristic of his time.

The Laozi. It is mentioned in Chapter 28: "Knowing its male, keeping its female, and being the stream of the world. To be the stream of the world, one's virtue will never leave, and one will return to the infant. To know its white and to guard its black is to be the style of the world. To be the style of the world, the constant virtue of the world does not cease, but returns to the infinite. To know its glory and to keep its shame is to be the grain of the world. To be the grain of the world, the constant virtue is sufficient, and the return is to simplicity. The sage uses it as an official, so the great system is not cut. This means that although one is aware of the importance of the masculine, one is still able to hold on to the feminine and the meek, just as one is able to encompass the valleys of the world. If one can be like the valley, one can maintain good virtues and be as pure and natural as a baby. The example of the world is to be able to hold on to one's ordinary and unexceptional position despite knowing that a good name will make one look honourable and glorious. If you can be an example to the world, you will be able to maintain good virtues and remain in the realm of the untouchable with an open mind. Though aware of the preciousness of glory, he can be humble and soft-hearted, like a valley that embraces the world, rich in virtue and natural simplicity. A simple piece of wood can be turned into a useful utensil after it has been properly processed. The sage, with a humble and soft heart, does what is right and just for the benefit of the community, and naturally becomes the head of all officials. Therefore, the coexistence of yin and yang, and the parallelism of strength and softness, are two sides of the same coin, complementing each other, and cannot be applied separately.

In the Taoist system of thought, the concept of the "infant" is extremely important. The cultivation of the infant is also a form of inner elixir cultivation, and this form of cultivation exists in Taoism, where the infant is the pure energy of the person who has gathered the vital energy of the whole body and transformed it into a pure energy body. The Emperor Jiajing himself believed in Taoism, and the subject of the infant play is a pictorial representation of the Taoist idea of 'cultivating the infant'. In the late Ming Dynasty, the outstanding thinker Li Jieyi put forward his literary concept of 'The Heart of a Child'. He attributed the standard of cognitive right and wrong to the child's mind. In his Reply to Deng Mingfu, he said, "There is no literary work under the sun that is not written with a child's heart. "A child's heart is also a true heart". Li Li used the term "child's heart" as the antithesis of the Confucian and Mencian ways, arguing that "reasoning and hearing" had caused people's speech and behaviour to cease to come from their true hearts, so that their speech and behaviour had become a false world of "false words with false people", and "things that are false but texts that are false".

A similar jar with a similar blue and white courtyard scene was included in the collections of important museums, one example in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing, with its original stopper, in The Complete Collection of Cultural Treasures from the Palace Museum - Blue and White Glazed Red (in Chinese), The Commercial Press (Hong Kong) Limited, 2009, p. 110, fig. 101; and one example in the collection of the Iemitsu Museum, Tokyo, without a stopper, in The Museum Collection A jar with a lid was also in the collection of the Huichun family, and was later included in the collection of Xu Zantang, Hong Kong, where it was sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 27 November 2007, no. 1738, for HK$30,560,000.

Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version).

Poly Auction Hong Kong Limited. A Romance Among Blooming Roses: The Meiyintang Collection of Three Dynasties Imperial Ceramics, Hong Kong, 2 Dec 2021