This flask seamlessly combines Chinese taste with Persian design and represents a style that flourished in the early Ming dynasty and gained favor with both the Chinese rulers and foreign royalty. Flasks of this model were popular during and peculiar to the Yongle and Xuande periods. The slightly angular bulb and short oval foot are characteristic of Yongle flasks which were produced in slightly varying sizes. Closely related examples include one excavated from the waste heaps of the Ming imperial kiln site at Zhushan, included in the exhibition Imperial Hongwu and Yongle Porcelain Excavated at Jingdezhen, Chang Foundation, Taipei, 1996, cat. no. 65; one in Umezawa Kinekan Museum, Tokyo, published in Sekai toji zenshu, vol. 14, Tokyo, 1976, pl. 144; another illustrated in Ming Qing ciqi jianding, Hong Kong, 1993, p. 21, pl. 30; and a fourth example from the Mount Trust collection, included in the exhibition The Mount Trust Collection of Chinese Ceramics, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1970, cat. no. 83, and sold at Christie's London, 19th April 1983, lot 20. Further examples include a flask sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 24th November 1981, lot 80; another sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 1st November 2004, lot 826; and two slightly taller examples also sold on our Hong Kong rooms, one, 15th May 1990, lot 25, and the other, from the Edward T. Chow collection, 19th May 1981, lot 408, with a the central medallion encircled by a classic scroll border more frequently found on Xuande marked flasks.
The same design is also found adorning a slightly smaller flask with a larger rounded bulb, in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, included in the Special Exhibition of Early Ming Porcelains, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1982, cat. no. 9. Compare also Xuande mark and period flasks of this type decorated with this design on one side and the other with a related motif of interlaced petals radiating from a central yin yang symbol; such as one from the Sir Percival David collection and now in the British Museum, illustrated in R.L. Hobson, A Catalogue of Chinese Pottery and Porcelain in the Collection of Sir Percival David, London, 1936, pl. CXVII; and another from the Edward T. Chow collection, included in the Exhibition of Blue-Decorated Porcelain of the Ming Dynasty, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, 1949, cat. no. 69, sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 25th November 1980, lot 7.
The design and shape of this flask appear to have derived from Near or Middle Eastern pottery or metal prototypes, although no exact counterpart has yet been found. Its possible origin is discussed in Margaret Medley, 'Islam and Chinese Porcelain in the 14th and Early 15th Centuries', Bulletin of the Oriental Ceramic Society of Hong Kong, no. 6, 1982-4; and in John Alexander Pope, 'An Early Ming Porcelain in Muslim Style', Aus der Welt der Islamischen Kunst. Festschrift fur Ernst Kuhnel, Berlin, 1959, where he illustrates a large inlaid brass canteen with similar strap handles and 'garlic' mouth, pls 2A and 2B, from the Eumorforpoulos collection, sold in our London rooms, 5th June 1940, lot 72, and now in the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
The star-shaped rosette adorning this flask is composed in a highly stylized and geometric manner. Both its formality and abstraction are unusual in a Chinese context and, together with the leafy scroll enclosing the motif, are probably also the result of Middle Eastern inspiration. However the traditional Chinese design repertoire is represented through the flower-scroll band at the neck and the small floral sprigs at the handles, although the combination of asters and carnations is rare. The delicacy of the floral elements also serves to soften the rigidity of the overall design.