This exceptional quality of painting, characteristic of the best of the Xuande period, was later emulated, but never equalled. Post-Xuande depictions of similar flower scrolls became more stylized and lost the intensity of the blue.
The flowers depicted around this bowl each represent different times of the year and are synonymous with connotations of abundance and prosperity. Although flower scrolls as a decorative scheme on ceramics have been popular since the Song dynasty (960-1279), this particular combination of lotus, peony, pomegranate, camellia and chrysanthemum appears to have been an invention of the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368) potter. The compositional arrangement of the various flowers may have been borrowed from Middle Eastern textiles and metalwork. While the representation of different flowers is sometimes stylized, on the present piece they have been rendered in a fairly naturalistic way.
The design of these bowls was inspired by Hongwu and Yongle examples. Two Hongwu pieces, painted with a somewhat simpler flower scroll between key-fret borders, one in blue and white, excavated at Dongmentou, Zhushan, was included in the exhibition Imperial Hongwu and Yongle Porcelain Excavated at Jingdezhen, Chang Foundation, Taipei, 1996, cat. no. 14; the other in underglaze red in the Palace Museum in Beijing is illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Blue and White Porcelain with Underglazed Red (I), Shanghai, 2000, pl. 222. A larger bowl, excavated from the late Yongle stratum of the waste heaps of the imperial kilns at Jingdezhen, was included in the exhibition catalogue Imperial Porcelain of the Yongle and Xuande Periods Excavated from the Site of the Ming Imperial Factory at Jingdezhen, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong, 1989, cat. no. 44.
Similar bowls, with a lotus design, are portrayed on the Guwan tu (‘Scroll of antiquities’) made during the reign of the Yongzheng Emperor (r. 1723-35) and dated equivalent to 1728. The scroll, depicting various artworks in the imperial collection, is now in the Percival David Foundation in London.
Two bowls identical to the present piece are in the National Palace Museum in Taipei and in the Palace Museum in Beijing, one included in the exhibition catalogue Mingdai Xuande guanyao jingcui tezhan tulu/Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of Selected Hsüan-te Imperial Porcelains of the Ming Dynasty, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1998, cat. no. 135, together with a slightly smaller bowl painted with lotus scrolls on the exterior, cat. no. 134; the other, somewhat smaller, illustrated in Geng Baochang, Gugong Bowuyuan cang Ming chu Qinghua ci [Early Ming blue-and-white porcelain in the Palace Museum], Beijing, 2002, vol. 2, pl. 149, together with an example with lotus scroll, pl. 148.
Another bowl is in the Ardabil Shrine in Teheran, illustrated in John Alexander Pope, Chinese Porcelains from the Ardebil Shrine, Smithsonian Institution, The Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, 1956, pl. 47, no. 29.321 and another is in the Indianapolis Museum of Art, included in Suzanne G. Valenstein, Ming Porcelains. A Retrospective, New York, China House Gallery. China Institute in America, New York, 1970, cat. no. 6.
Two similar bowls were sold in our London rooms, one from the Eumorfopoulos collection on 29th May 1940, lot 209; the other from the collection of J.F.M. Braithwaite on 5th July 1977, lot 204 and again in these rooms on 30th April 1991, lot 12. Another from the collection of Kochukyo Co., Tokyo was also sold in these rooms on 8th October 2014, lot 3694.
Unmarked bowls of this type, painted with lotus on the outside, were also manufactured during the Xuande period, one example in the National Palace Museum in Taipei was included in the Museum’s exhibition Mingdai chunian ciqi tezhan mulu [Catalogue of the special exhibition of early Ming period porcelain], Taipei, 1982, cat. no. 27, and another is illustrated in Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, London, 1994, vol. 2, no. 668.
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