Mayuyama & Co., Ltd.
Japanese Private Collection, Kyoto, 1920s - 1930s.
Konosuke Matsuhita (1894 - 1989).
Chugoku toji meiho ten shiri-zu [Masterpieces of Chinese ceramics series], Gotoh Art Museum, 1965 or 1966.
Shinkan kansei kinen tokubetsu tenrankai zuhan mokuroku/Illustrated Catalogues of the Special Exhibition in Memory of the New Building, Kyoto National Museum, Kyoto, 1966, cat. no. 286.
Genmatsu Minsho no sometsuke ten mokuroku [Catalogue of the exhibition of late Yuan and early Ming blue-and-white], Japan Ceramic Society, Osaka Branch, 1967, cat. no. 23.
A Rare Yongle Blue and White Ewer
Ewers of this form come with various designs but the present one is among the rarest. Its unusual open panel in a somewhat modified ruyi form may be derived from the ruyi elements on cloud collars, where they are joined to a continuous band. It is unusual, however, for the lotus to 'grow' into the panel, which evokes the image of a flower seen through the shaped doorway of a Chinese garden.
The form of the pear-shaped ewer, which is often said to be derived from a Middle Eastern metal shape, may in fact have developed from small stumpy egg-shaped ewers produced in the Southern Song dynasty, which had shorter spouts and no separate neck and therefore lacked the joining strut. In the Yuan dynasty already a form similar to the present one had appeared (compare a celadon ewer recovered from a shipwreck sunk off Shinan in AD 1323, in Relics Salvaged from the Seabed off Sinan. Materials I, Seoul, 1985, pl. 125), which was then refined in proportions and reached its most mature, balanced form in the Yongle reign. Soon after, it completely disappeared from Jingdezhen's repertoire. In China, these ewers were used for wine, in the Middle East for water to wash hands at meal times, where they would have been accompanied by basins or deep dishes to receive the water.
A companion ewer from the royal collection of the Ottoman sultans in Istanbul is illustrated in Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics in the Topkapi Saray Museum, Istanbul, London, 1986, vol.II, no.621 and colour plate p. 427 (fig. 1). Two ewers of the same design from the royal collection of the Safavid shahs, preserved in the Ardabil Shrine and today probably in the National Museum of Iran, Tehran, are recorded in John Alexander Pope, Chinese Porcelains from the Ardebil Shrine, Washington, D.C., 1956, pl. 54, nos. 29.429 and 29.430, one with broken spout and handle, the other apparently unpublished.
Only three other ewers of this design appear to have been published, one illustrated in Mayuyama: Seventy Years, Tokyo, 1976, vol. I, no. 738 and sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 27th May 2008, lot 1568; another illustrated in Jean McClure Mudge, Chinese Export Porcelain in North America, New York, 1986, pl. 88; and one was sold at auction in Paris, 16th November 1984, lot 19.
Blue-and-white ewers of this form and period, in five different patterns were preserved both in the Ardabil Shrine, Iran, and in Topkapi Saray, Istanbul; for eight ewers in Iran, including two of the present design, see Pope, pl. 54 and Misugi, vol. III, pls. A78-81 and 236; for six in Topkapi Saray, Istanbul, including one companion piece, see Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics in the Topkapi Saray Museum, Istanbul, London, 1986, vol.II, no. 617-21.
Fragmentary ewers with at least four different designs, including three variations on a peach-and-loquat design, but none of the present pattern, have been discovered at the waste heaps of the Ming imperial kiln site at Zhushan, Jingdezhen, three in the Yongle (fig. 2) and one in the Xuande stratum; see Jingdezhen Zhushan chutu Yongle guanyao ciqi ('Yongle Imperial porcelain excavated at Zhushan, Jingdezhen'), Capital Museum, Beijing, 2007, cat. nos. 65-7; and 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. 80.
The design of peach and loquat branches in quatrefoil panels on opposite sides of the ewer became by far the most common one and at least four examples are in the Palace Museum, Beijing, including a very unusual one with a Xuande reign mark, see The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Blue and White Porcelain with Underglazed Red (I), Shanghai, 2000, pls. 41, 114 and 115; and Geng Baochang, ed., Gugong Bowuyuan cang gu taoci ciliao xuancui ('Selection of ancient ceramic material from the Palace Museum'), Beijing, 2005, vol. I, pl. 97; another is in the Shanghai Museum, see 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, pl. 1 : 6.
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