This lotus scroll motif on this piece is rendered in the subtle anhua technique, or hidden decoration, a complicated and not yet fully understood manner of decoration that involved impressing the design into a layer of slip. First developed in the Song period (960-1279), this technique gained popularity during the early Ming dynasty (1368-1644), particularly in the reign of the Yongle Emperor (r.1403-1424), whose direct patronage of Buddhism also led to a renewed interest in monochrome white wares. The anhua technique was mastered in the Kangxi reign, with vessels displaying increasingly thin walls and sophisticated motifs. Porcelain vessels decorated in this technique required to be handled and inspected closely, as the motif is visible only when light shines through it.
In his strive to gain the influence and respect needed to rule over the predominantly Han-Chinese elite, the Kangxi Emperor took a keen interest in China’s history and culture and revived industries that had ceased production at the end of the Ming dynasty. Under the Kangxi Emperor’s patronage, the imperial kiln porcelain factory at Jingdezhen resumed production of imperial wares. The predominant aim for the Emperor appears to have been to regain standards of quality that had long been lost, and to employ ancient techniques in a new way. This bowl exemplifies this trend as it clearly references early Ming porcelain through its glaze and decoration. A white-glazed bowl from the Yongle period, decorated with a floral scroll, in the Palace Museum, Beijing, is illustrated in Imperial Porcelains from the Reigns of Hongwu and Yongle in the Ming Dynasty, Beijing, 2015, pl. 248.
A closely related pair of bowls was sold in these rooms, 17th November 1975, lot 144; another was sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 26th September 1989, lot 690; a slightly smaller bowl was sold in our London rooms, 1st/2nd April 1974, lot 261; and another was sold in our New York rooms, 15th June 1983, lot 326, and at Christie’s New York, 21st September 2004, lot 261.