The original function of these bowls has not yet been definitely determined. While they are often referred to as 'dice bowls' and may have been used as such, some scholars believe they were used as brush washers, as fruit bowls or for the popular game of cricket fights. The latter appears to have been a favourite pastime of the Xuande Emperor. Shen Defu (1578-1642) in his Wanli yehuo bian (Miscellaneous compilation of the Wanli period), recounts that Xuande 'was most adept in [cricket] play. He sent a secret edict to the magistrate of Suzhou prefecture, Kuang Zhong, to provide one thousand crickets as tribute' (Liu Xinyuan, 'Amusing the Emperor: The Discovery of Xuande Period Cricket Jars from the Ming Imperial Kilns, Orientations, September 1995, p. 62). The Emperor's enthusiasm for this activity is further displayed by the relatively large quantity of extant and excavated porcelain cricket jars of the period.
A bowl of this design from the Qing Court collection and still in Beijing, is illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Blue and White Porcelain with Underglaze Red (I), Shanghai, 2000, pl. 145; one in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, was included in the Museum's Special Exhibition of Selected Hsüan-te Imperial Porcelains of the Ming dynasty, Taipei, 1998, cat. no. 48; another from the Avery Brundage collection, in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, is illustrated in René-Yvon Lefebvre d'Argencé, Chinese Ceramics in the Avery Brundage Collection, San Francisco 1967, pl. LI B; and a fourth bowl in the Idemitsu Museum of Arts, Tokyo, is published in The Panoramic View of Chinese Patterns, Tokyo, 1985, pl. 106.
Two further bowls of this pattern were sold in these rooms, 7th May 2002, lot 565, and 5th October 2016, lot 3631, the latter from the Gulbenkian Museum of Oriental Art and Archaeology, Durham, previously sold at Christie's London, 9th November 2004, lot 132.
These sturdy and shallow bowls are also known painted with Indian lotuses, such as lot 7 in this sale, clusters of fruits, lot 5, and composite floral scrolls, lot 9. Designs of roses and lingzhi are also found on bowls of this type. A bowl painted with roses from the Sir Percival David collection, now in the British Museum, London, is illustrated in Margaret Medley, 'Regrouping 15th Century Blue and White', Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, vol. 34, 1962-63, pl. 3a.
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