The barbed shape and the painted flower design are equally characteristic of this great period. Although both are directly derived from Hongwu prototypes, in the Yongle period they were equally improved in every respect. Hongwu prototypes were molded as cup stands, with the ring of petal panels painted onto a raised ring in the centre that would hold the cup. Dishes such as the present one are also believed to have been intended for this purpose, but with their flat centers would obviously have been much more universally useable. The way the short petal panels are painted, however, has a trompe-l’oeil effect, also suggesting a raised ring.
In the Hongwu period, the bracket shape, created by double molds, had sharp angles, ridges and grooves, and a thick, angular rim. In the Yongle reign, the brackets – in China likened to the form of the water caltrop (ling) – were much softened and the rim became broader and thinner, with a well-rounded edge; for the Hongwu prototype compare a dish excavated from the Ming imperial kiln site, included in the exhibition Imperial Hongwu and Yongle Porcelain Excavated at Jingdezhen, Chang Foundation, Taipei, 1996, cat. no. 17.
The painted decoration, which on the Hongwu examples is very precise and orderly, in the Yongle reign became much more lively and less formal. On the present dish, the graceful rose design seems to be in motion, the buds swaying in the wind, and the lotus sprays seem to be dancing, their stems swirling in different directions. Similar Yongle dishes also exist with other related flower designs, but the present pattern is particularly impressive because of its powerful wave border with undulating and crescent waves painted in thick brush strokes, reinforcing the sense of movement which pervades the whole pattern.
A dish of this design in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, was included in the Museum’s exhibition Shi yu xin: Mingdai Yongle huangdi de ciqi/Pleasingly Pure and Lustrous: Porcelains from the Yongle Reign (1403-1424) of the Ming Dynasty, Taipei, 2017, catalogue, p. 60, where it is illustrated together with a small bracket-lobed cup, p. 61, of a type that may have been used together with such dishes; that dish was also included in the exhibition Mingdai chunian ciqi tezhan mulu/Catalogue of a Special Exhibition of Early Ming Period Porcelain, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1982, cat. no. 42, where it is illustrated in color. Another dish of this design, but attributed to the Xuande period, is in the Shanghai Museum, published in Lu Minghua, Shanghai Bowuguan cangpin yanjiu daxi/Studies of the Shanghai Museum Collections: A Series of Monographs. Mingdai guanyao ciqi [Ming imperial porcelain], Shanghai, 2007, pl. 1-23.
A similar dish from the collection of Captain and Mrs. Ferris Luboshez, included in the Exhibition of Chinese Art from the Ferris Luboshez Collection, University of Maryland Art Gallery, College Park, Maryland, 1972, cat. no. 129 and illustrated as fig. 9, was sold three times in our Hong Kong rooms, 16th November 1973, lot 137; 29th November 1977, lot 24; and 15th May 1990, lot 21, and is illustrated in Sotheby’s Hong Kong – Twenty Years, 1973-1993, Hong Kong, 1993, pl. 70; another from the collections of A.D. Brankston, Mrs. W. H. Roberts, and later T.Y. Chao, was sold in our London rooms, 30th March 1978, lot 175, and in our Hong Kong rooms, 19th May 1987, lot 239; compare also two other dishes of this design, but with small floral sprigs instead of the waves around the rim, thus creating a completely different impression: one from the collections of Richard Bryant Hobart and later F. Gordon Morrill, exhibited at the William Hayes Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, sold in these rooms, 12th December 1969, lot 254, and at Doyle, New York, 16th September 2003, lot 80; the other sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 1st November 1999, lot 314.
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