Ewers of this elegant form were first made in the Hongwu and Yongle reigns, and are known with a variety of motifs, including flower scrolls, garden scenes and fruit. Their form and the use of quatrefoil panels as decorative devices date back to the Yuan dynasty. However, the motif of peaches and loquats and the surrounding ‘Flowers of the Four Seasons’, which include rose, peony, chrysanthemum and camellia, would have resonated with significance among the Ming aristocracy and literati elite. One of China’s most auspicious fruit, the peach is an omen of longevity and harbinger of happiness, while the loquat embodies the spirit of the four seasons: it buds in autumn, blossoms in winter, sets fruit in spring and ripens in summer.
Copies of Ming prototypes were first created in the Yongzheng reign, but became more popular during the Qianlong period, when the original design was successfully transformed to suit contemporary taste. The effectiveness of the Qing version lies in its reinterpretation of the original design as displayed in the more linear rendering of the flowers and leaves and the composition of the design to complement the elegant form. Furthermore, while attempting to imitate the sought-after ‘heaping and piling effect’ of 15th century examples with the deliberate application of darker spots of cobalt, craftsmen skilfully reproduced the ripening skin of the fruits and turning of leaves.
Vases of this form are held in important museums and private collections worldwide; a closely related ewer from the Qing Court collection and still in Beijing, is illustrated in Geng Baochang, Gugong Bowuguan cang Ming chu qinghua ci [Early Ming blue-and-white porcelain in the Palace Museum], Beijing, 2002, vol. 2, pl. 210; one in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, is published in Porcelain of the National Palace Museum. Blue-and-White Ware of the Ch’ing Dynasty, Hong Kong, 1968, vol. II, pl. 14; another in the Topkapi Saray Museum, Istanbul, is illustrated in Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics in the Topkapi Saray Museum, Istanbul, London, 1986, vol. III, pl. 2565; and a slightly larger example in the Nanjing Museum is illustrated in The Official Kiln Porcelain of the Chinese Qing Dynasty, Shanghai, 2003, pl. 214. See also a closely related ewer from the Meiyintang collection, sold twice in these rooms, 26th October 1993, lot 179, and 4th April 2012, lot 28; and another with its matching cover from the Malcolm collection, included in the Oriental Ceramic Society exhibition Chinese Blue and White Porcelain, London, 1953, cat. no. 311, and sold in our London rooms, 5th July 1977, lot 247.
Ewers of this form and design continued to be produced in the succeeding reigns; a Jiaqing mark and period version in the Palace Museum, Beijing is illustrated in Geng Baochang, Gugong Bowuguan cang gu taoci ciliao xuancui [Selection of ancient ceramic material from the Palace Museum], Beijing, 2005, vol. II, pl. 249; and a pair of ewers with Daoguang marks and of the period, from the Ohlmer collection in the Roemer-Museum, Hildeshein, are published in Ulrich Wiesner, Chinesisches Porzellan, Mainz am Rhein, 1981, pls 71 and 72.
For the Yongle prototype of this form and design see a ewer recovered from the Yongle stratum of the Imperial kiln site at Zhushan, Jingdezhen, included in the exhibition Imperial Hongwu and Yongle Porcelain excavated at Jingdezhen, Chang Foundation, Taipei, 1996, cat. no. 59; and one with a cover, in the Palace Museum, Beijing, included in the Museum’s exhibition Imperial Porcelains from the Reigns of Hongwu and Yongle in the Ming Dynasty, Beijing, 2015, cat. no. 94.
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