Details & Cataloguing

Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art

Hong Kong

A Fine and Extremely Rare Blue and White 'Waves' Leys Jar, Zhadou
Mark and Period of Xuande
of finely potted compressed globular form resting on a splayed foot and flaring at the trumpet mouth, freely painted in varying tones of soft cobalt-blue with turbulent rolling waves emitting foam and spray, crashing against six unequally spaced jagged rocks, below a band of pendant trefoils at the shoulder, the neck encircled by slender overlapping serrated leaves, with a double-line band at the rim on the interior, the stepped base inscribed with a six-character mark within a double-circle
16.7 cm., 6 1/2  in.
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Collection of Wu Lai-hsi.
Sotheby's London, 26th May 1937, lot 29.
Collection of Major L.F. Hay.
Sotheby's London, 16th June 1939, lot 87.
Collection of R.H.R. Palmer.
Christie's London, 14th June 1982, lot 82.
Sotheby's Hong Kong, 11th April 2008, lot 2930.


Sir Harry Garner, Oriental Blue and White, London, 1973, pl. 31B.
Margaret Medley, 'Re-grouping 15th Centuries', Transactions of the O.C.S., vol. 34 (1962-63), pl. 12a.

Catalogue Note

Zhadou vessels with this decoration are extremely rare with only five other ones recorded. Two from the Qing court collection are in both the Palace Museum in Beijing and National Palace Museum in Taipei, one is illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Blue and White Porcelain with Underglazed Red (I), Hong Kong, 2000, pl. 113 (fig.1) and the other in the National Palace Museum, Taiwan, included in the National Palace Museum, Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of Selected Hsüan-te Imperial Porcelains of the Ming Dynasty, Taipei, 1998, cat.no. 18; another in the Oppenheim Collection, now in the British Museum, illustrated in Jessica Harrison-Hall, Ming Ceramics in the British Museum, London, 2001, cat.no. 4:38; a fourth in the Percival David Foundation, London, illustrated in Margaret Medley, The Chinese Potter, London, 2001 (reprinted), figs. 147 and 148; and a fifth one sold in these rooms 30th April 1991, lot 13 and illustrated in Sekai Tōji Zenshū, vol. 11, Tokyo, 1981, pl. 71 and Masahiko Sato, Chinese Ceramics, New York and Tokyo, 1981, p. 164, fig. 236.

Also see a smaller related type of zhadou (9.5cm high) with an elaborate foliate scroll around the belly and similar upright plantain leaves around the neck, including one from the R.H.R. Palmer Collection sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 17th January 1989, lot 570; another sold in our London rooms 30th November 1959, lot 23 and again 31st October 1974, lot 65.

While waves have been a common motif on blue and white wares on earlier Ming dynasty pieces, it was during the Xuande period that waves became a single motif rather than a background for other designs.  The turbulent waves are also typical of the period with more abstracted waves commonly seen on earlier wares.  The waves on the present lot are seen breaking over several small islands of rocks, which allude to the magical islands of Penglai, home of the Queen Mother of the West. Islands in turbulent waves are first seen on blue and white wares of the Yongle period.

Waves can also be a reference to tides, 'chao', which is a homophone for the word for 'audience,' thus expressing a wish for success as court official. 

According to Margaret Medley, pieces with a 'stepped base' can be catagorized together in terms of dating.  These types of pieces only come about in the late Xuande period and continued through the Interregnum period and into the Chenghua period. 

The zhadou form or leys jar with its wide rim and globular body is an ancient form that appear on archaic bronzes in the form of a zun.  Over the centuries, the rim has evolved to being wider and the body more compact.  While some have called this form 'spitoon' shaped, it is not clear if these vessels were actually used as such.  The form of the present lot is first seen in the 15th century and can be found on recently re-dated Imperial jun wares from the early Ming Dynasty, as seen with a zhadou in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, illustrated in He Li, Chinese Ceramics, London, 1996, p. 152, pl. 246. This shape can also be seen on later period ceramics from the Zhengde period including on a yellow ground with green enamelled dragon zhadou illustrated in Jessica Harrison-Hall, op.cit. 8:32.

Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art

Hong Kong