The Zhengde reign marks a transition from the refined porcelain vessels of the preceding Chenghua reign to the bold designs of the Jiajing period. Stylistic changes resulted from the political and social instability created by the excessive power and increasing number of corrupt eunuchs at court. While the Zhengde Emperor was encouraged to live a life of luxury and extravagance away from official duties, eunuchs took control of court administration. This had a profound effect on porcelain production at the Imperial kilns in Jingdezhen: the standard of quality for imperial porcelain remained exceptionally high and the variety of forms and designs increased, however production shrank as testified by the small amount of excavated material. The subtle hue of the cobalt blue of these wares as seen on this jar is also noticeably different from the preceding and succeeding reigns, as the material most probably came from local mines. The Ruizhou fuzhi (Annals of Ruizhou prefecture) from 1515 mentions that ‘At Tianzi Hill in Shanggao County [Jiangxi province] there is a nameless stone which is used at Jingdezhen as a painting medium on porcelain’, which suggests that Jiangxi was one source of cobalt pigment (Wang Qingzheng, Qinghua youlihong/ Underglaze Blue and Red, Hong Kong, 1987, p. 11).
Both the form and decoration of this jar follow early Ming prototypes. The globular shape with its wide everted rim originated from archaic bronze zun, but was made in porcelain from the early 15th century. Over the centuries the rim evolved to become wider and the body more compact. Although jars of this form are often referred to as ‘spittoons’, they were probably used as general waste jars at table. A Yuan scholar observed that ‘During Song times, when prominent families held banquets, jinping (receptacle for chopsticks) and zhadou (spittoon) would certainly be placed on the tables (The Radiant Ming 1368-1644 through the Min Chiu Society Collection, Hong Kong Museum of History, Hong Kong, 2015-2016, p. 37).
Three closely related zhadou in the Palace Museum, Beijing, were included in the Museum’s exhibition Imperial Porcelains from the Reign of Hongzhi and Zhengde in the Ming Dynasty, Beijing, 2017, vol. 2, cat. nos 180-182, together with a reconstructed example excavated at the imperial kiln site in Zhushan, cat. no. 418; one in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, was included in Radiating Hues of Blue and White, Taipei, 2016, pl. 76; another from the Sir Percival David collection now in the British Museum, London, is published in Oriental Ceramics. The World’s Great Collections, Tokyo, 1980, vol. 6, pl. 124; and a further example from the Lauritzen collection in the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm, is illustrated ibid., vol. 8, pl. 228.
Zhadou of this type from important private collections have also been sold at auction; a jar from the collections of L.F. Hay, H.M. Knight and Frederick Knight, included in the exhibition Oosterse Schatten. 4000 Jaar Aziatische Kunst, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 1954, cat. no. 247, was sold in our London rooms, 16th June 1939, lot 99, in these rooms, 18th May 1982, lot 30, and in our New York rooms, 15th June 1983, lot 278; one from the Meiyintang collection was sold in these rooms, 7th April 2011, lot 60; and another from the collection of Ira and Nancy Koger, was sold at Christie’s New York, 19th September 2006, lot 245, and again in these rooms, 8th October 2013, lot 212.
It is interesting to note that this jar belongs to a group of blue and white wares from the Zhengde reign that feature a reign mark with the ‘nian’ character written with four horizontal strokes and a slightly elongated ‘de’ character. The mark on all these wares appears to have been written by the same hand, and is also found on the excavated zhadou mentioned above.
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