The present piece is a particularly rare and unusual example of Chenghua ware. Only one other closely related bowl appears to have been published, unearthed from the waste heaps of the imperial kilns, included in the exhibition A Legacy of Chenghua. Imperial Porcelain of the Chenghua Reign Excavated from Zhushan, Jingdezhen, The Tsui Museum of Art, Hong Kong, 1993, cat. no. A11, where it is noted that this piece and other fragments of bowls and dishes of this design and mark were excavated at the early Chenghua accumulation no. 87 (see p. 52). Jiang Jianxin adds that the excavated bowl "is the earliest known example where the reign mark of a previous era has been inscribed on a piece of imperial porcelain," a practice that only became widely employed in later periods (p. 110).
The motif and its bold painterly style of the present bowl, closely following that of the Xuande reign, also support an early Chenghua date. During the Chenghua period, Xuande blue and white porcelain was considered to be the finest ever produced and thus served as inspiration. The apocryphal mark on the base of this bowl, probably to honour the great accomplishments during the earlier reign and to acknowledge the borrowing of the design, further reveals the appreciation of Xuande porcelain. Despite these similarities with Xuande wares, the cobalt of the present bowl is typical of early Chenghua blue and white wares in its fluidity and lack of heaping and piling.
A similar motif of Buddhist lions is also known on a Chenghua mark and period dish, included in the exhibition The Emperor's Broken china, Sotheby's London, 1995, cat. no. 93, together with a reconstructed ewer also painted with lions, cat. no. 48; and another dish, exhibited in A Legacy of Chenghua, op.cit., pl. B26, together with a stem cup, cat. no. A8, and a box, cat. no. C48. For another Xuande-marked Chenghua blue and white decorated bowl, see one painted with a lotus scroll included ibid., cat. no. C71.
The motif of lions playing with beribboned balls is well known from early 15th century porcelain, such as a jar with Xuande mark and of the period in the Shanghai Museum, Shanghai, illustrated in Lu Minghua, Mingdai guanyao ciqi [Ming imperial porcelain], Shanghai, 2007, pl. 1-32; and a dish in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, included in the Museum's exhibition Ming Xuande ciqi tezhan mulu [Special exhibition of Xuande wares], Taipei, 1980, cat. no. 59. It carries auspicious associations symbolising physical and spiritual power and conveying wishes for high rank.
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