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comprising a dish with an everted rim, raised on four cloud-shaped feet, with a tall conical mountain-shaped support in the centre set with a concave top and three tubular recesses to receive the legs of a jue, the support modelled with sharp peaks and painted with turbulent waves crashing around the base, surrounded by two finely painted five-clawed dragons swimming in surging water, bordered on the rim by a 'classic' scroll band, the exterior painted with tiny lotus sprays on the rim, sides and feet, the base left unglazed exposing the body fired to a bright orange colour
Dragons Encircling the Isles of the Blessed
Tripod wine vessels in the shape of archaic bronze jue had in the Ming dynasty an important function in ritual, but were not necessarily always used together with stands. Whereas several early Ming jue are recorded, only one other jue stand of this type appears to be preserved, in the National Palace Museum, Taipei. Porcelain jue in monochrome whiteare in fact well known from the early Ming dynasty, but no matching stands have been recorded. Ritual vessels of the Yongle period were generally glazed in monochrome colours – white, red, blue and yellow –, their colours signifying different functions in different ceremonies. Blue-and-white ritual vessels of any kind are extremely rare prior to the Xuande period, when many stem bowls were produced in blue-and-white, inscribed with the Xuande reign mark. The discovery of a fragmentary jue and stand of the present type in the Yongle stratum of the Ming imperial kiln sites confirms, however, the exceptionally early date of the present piece.
The usage and form of jue standsof this type known as xie jue shan pan (mountain plate for resting a jue) probably derives from metal prototypes. A silver twin jue stand, of rectangular form, similarly raised on ruyi-shaped feet, conceived to hold a gold and a silver jue on two mountain supports surrounded by floating dragons, was excavated from the opulent tomb of Zhu Zhanji, Prince Zhuang of Liang (1411-1441), ninth son of the Hongxi Emperor who ruled for less than a year between the Yongle and Xuande reigns. The prince was buried in 1441 in Zhongxiang, Hubei province, together with over 5000 precious objects, many of them dating from the Yongle period, including blue-and-white and other porcelain stem bowls; see Liang Zhu, ed., Liang Zhuangwang mu/Mausoleum of Prince Liang Zhuangwang, Beijing, 2007, vol. 1, with the jue and stand illustrated p. 41, figs 41 and 42, and vol. 2, pl. 33 (fig. 0).
Although no imperial tombs besides that of the Wanli emperor have been excavated, some known earlier gold vessels suggest that his tomb furnishings followed a relatively fixed pattern for an imperial mausoleum. They included a gold jue with a circular stand similar to the present piece, formed with a flat rim and a mountain-shaped support surrounded by dragons, probably conceived after an early Ming gold prototype; see Dingling duo ying/The Royal Treasures of Dingling Imperial Ming Tomb, Beijing, 1989, pl. 71 (fig. 1).
The jue used with these stands were modelled on bronze ritual wine vessels used in the late Shang dynasty (late 2nd millennium BC) in rituals to worship the ancestors. Similar usage in later periods would suggest a Confucian context. The present stand with its three mountain peaks washed round by waves seems, however, designed to evoke the Isles of the Blessed – abode of the Immortals – and as such also conforms toDaoist concepts that evolved in the Qin and Han dynasties (3rd to 2nd century BC).
The only other porcelain jue stand of this type and this early date that appears to be preserved, is a piece in the National Palace Museum, Taiwan, apparently identical to the Meiyintang example and still retaining its jue; see Ciqishang de longwentezhan/Special Exhibition of Dragon-Motif Porcelain, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1983, cat. no. 56 (fig. 2). A fragmentary set, also of the same design, excavated from the Yongle stratum of the Ming imperial kiln site in Jingdezhen, is published in Jingdezhen Zhushan chutu Yongle guanyao ciqi [Yongle Imperial porcelain excavated at Zhushan, Jingdezhen], Capital Museum, Beijing, 2007, cat. no. 98 (fig. 3).
Two monochrome white jue reconstructed from sherds found at the Ming imperial kiln site are illustrated ibid. cat. no. 18, and in Imperial Porcelain of the Yongle and Xuande Periods Excavated from the Site of the Ming Imperial Factory at Jingdezhen, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong, 1989, cat. no. 17.
Similar sets of jue and stands continued to be used throughout the Ming and Qing dynasties. A similarly decorated example of the late Ming period is illustrated in Suzanne G. Valenstein, The Herzman Collection of Chinese Ceramics, New York, 1992, pl. 77; and one of Qianlong mark and period in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, decorated with cranes among clouds, is published in Rose Kerr, Chinese Ceramics. Porcelain of the Qing Dynasty 1644-1911, London, 1998 (1986), pl. 44.
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