Two bowls of similar size, one incised with the numeral er (two) and the other with yi (one), in the Palace Museum, Beijing, are illustrated in Selection of Jun Ware. The Palace Museum’s Collection and Archaeological Excavation. Beijing, 2013, pls 94 and 95; another, also incised with the number yi (one), but covered in sky-blue glaze, in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, is published in A Panorama of Ceramics in the Collection of the National Palace Museum: Chun Ware, Taipei, 1999, pl. 28, together with further examples inscribed with different numbers, pls 27-31 and 34-36. Compare also a bowl sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 1st May 1995, lot 637, and again in our Hong Kong rooms, 7th May 2002, lot 521.
Mold-made vessels of this type are frequently incised with numbers from one to ten on the base. The significance of the inscribed numbers is poorly understood. The numbers coincide roughly with different sizes, yi ('one') being the largest and shi ('ten') the smallest version of the shape. This system would help to match sets of flower pots and their stands but does not explain the appearance of numbers on the base of vases and bulb bowls, such as the present bowl, which generally are stand-alone vessels. For further information see George J. Lee, 'Numbered Chun Ware', Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, vol. 21, 1945-46, p. 61, which records five 'numbered Jun' vessels from the collection of Ernest B. and Helen Pratt Dane, possibly one of the most important collectors of 'numbered Jun' wares outside China, and now in the Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, MA.
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