The gardenia flower on dishes of this type, zhizi in Chinese, is not immediately associated with any auspicious meaning, but its distinctive fragrance was popular among ladies who wore branches of gardenia in their hair. It was also used for flavoring tea and for preparing cosmetics, and the small fruits of the plant were coveted for dyeing–producing a fine yellow or orange color–as well as for their medicinal benefits.
A closely related dish in the British Museum, London, is illustrated in Jessica Harrison-Hall, Ming Ceramics, London, 2001, pl. 8:24, together with a slightly larger one with a six-character reign mark, pl. 8:23; another of slightly larger size, in the Palace Museum, Beijing, is illustrated in Imperial Porcelains from the Reign of Hongzhi and Zhengde in the Ming Dynasty, Beijing, 2017, pl. 235; a third from the Percival David Foundation, now also in the British Museum, London, is published in Soame Jenyns, Ming Pottery and Porcelain, London, 1988, col. pl. H; and a further example from the collections of Mr and Mrs R.H.R. Palmer and Roger Pilkington, was sold in our London rooms in 1962, and in our Hong Kong rooms, 5th April 2016, lot 4.
For a Xuande prototype of this design, see a dish in the British Museum, London, illustrated in Harrison-Hall, op.cit., pl. 4.43.
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