This vase represents one of the classic patterns of the Yongle period (1403-24) that illustrates the phenomenal advances made by Jingdezhen’s potters and painters in less than a century, since blue-and-white porcelain began to be made there. Both in terms of its well-proportioned shape, which was produced with various kinds of decoration, and its lush fruit pattern, one of the most popular motifs of early Ming (1368-1644) blue-and-white which appears equally on other shapes of the period, this design set a standard of excellence that would be emulated for centuries to come.
The present piece is remarkable for its particularly fine potting and its smooth and tactile glaze, and beautifully displays the characteristic ‘heaping and piling’ of the cobalt-blue painting – a much-copied trademark of imperial blue-and-white from the early Ming dynasty. The present pattern and in particular this feature were identified with the most desirable Ming porcelain already in the Yongzheng period (1723-35), when the Emperor commissioned close copies, probably sending an original antique vase as a model from the palace collection to Jingdezhen. In the Qianlong reign (1736-95), the design was updated to a contemporary version, which differs in proportions and painting style, but copies this medium size rather than the larger ones also made in the early Ming.
Meiping vases, in the Yongle period perhaps still used as wine jars, were made in various sizes and were equally popular in China and abroad, as examples preserved both in the Chinese palace collections and the Safavid and Ottoman royal collections in Iran and Turkey document. Although some scholars have attributed some of these vases to the Xuande reign (1426-35), all vessels of this design appear to be unmarked; and no sherds of this pattern appear to have been excavated at Jingdezhen so far.
Several meiping of this design and size are in the Palace Museum, Beijing, see one illustrated in Zhongguo taoci quanji [Complete series on Chinese ceramics], Shanghai, 1999-2000, vol. 12, pl. 12 ; another in Geng Baochang, ed., Gugong Bowuyuan cang gu taoci ciliao xuancui [Selection of ancient ceramic material from the Palace Museum], Beijing 2005, vol. 1, pl. 85; and a third, attributed to the Xuande period, published in Geng Baochang, ed., Gugong Bowuyuan cang Ming chu qinghua ci [Early Ming blue-and-white porcelain in the Palace Museum], Beijing, 2002, vol. 1, pl. 76, together with a Yongzheng copy and the more elaborate Qianlong version of this pattern, vol. 2, pls. 185 and 202.
Two meiping of this design, one attributed to the Yongle, the other to the Xuande period, are also in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, illustrated in Minji meihin zuroku [Illustrated catalogue of important Ming porcelains], Tokyo, 1977-78, vol. 1, pls. 12 and 39, the two examples slightly varying in proportion, and the latter with the design more tightly arranged, and with a cover.
Another early Ming meiping attributed to the Xuande reign, in the collection of the Shanghai Museum, is illustrated together with a Yongzheng copy in Lu Minghua, Shanghai Bowuguan zangpin yanjiu daxi/Studies of the Shanghai Museum Collections : A Series of Monographs. Mingdai guanyao ciqi [Ming imperial porcelain], Shanghai, 2007, pls. 5-21 and 5-22 (images reversed)(fig.1); and an early Ming example in the Jingdezhen Ceramic Museum is published in Keitokuchin jiki [Jingdezhen ceramics], Kyoto, 1982, pl. 36.
For two similar vases out of a total of six from the Ottoman Royal collection, see Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics in the Topkapi Saray Museum, Istanbul, ed. John Ayers, London, 1986, vol. 2, no. 624; and four meiping of this design from the Safavid Royal collection preserved in the Ardabil Shrine in Iran are recorded and one of them illustrated in John Alexander Pope, Chinese Porcelains from the Ardebil Shrine, Washington, D.C., 1956 (rev. ed., London, 1981), pl. 51 top right.
A meiping of this design and similar size from the Edward T. Chow collection, was sold in these rooms, 19th May 1981, lot 409, together with a Qianlong version with fruit and flower sprays, lot 546. A larger Yongle vase from the Estate of Laurance S. Rockefeller was sold in our New York rooms, 21st/22nd September 2005, lot 64.
In shape and decoration all these vessels are closely related to another early Ming meiping design, a more complex variant, which may well represent a prototype of the present pattern, that was slightly simplified to give the individual fruit sprays more prominence. The more complex design shows ten similar fruit sprays distributed over a narrower space and enclosed between more elaborate borders. Four examples of that design are known, one covered example in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in Geng Baochang, ed., Gugong Bowuyuan cang Ming chu qinghua ci [Early Ming blue-and-white porcelain in the Palace Museum], Beijing, 2002, vol. 1, pl. 15 and p. 34; a pair excavated at Xiangshan Dayuan, Haidian district, Beijing, both probably in the Capital Museum, Beijing, one illustrated in Zhongguo taoci quanji [Complete series on Chinese ceramics], Shanghai, 1999-2000, vol. 12, pl. 47, the other in Guang Lin, ‘Beijing chutu de jixian Mingdai qinghua ciqi [Some Ming blue and white porcelains excavated in Beijing], Wenwu 1972, no. 6, pl. 6, fig. 2; and the fourth from the Meiyintang collection, sold in these rooms, 5th October 2011, lot 11.
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