MING DYNASTY, HONGWU PERIOD
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the robustly potted broad-shouldered tapering body rising from a recessed base to a narrow short flaring neck with rolled rim, painted around the exterior in copper-red fired to silvery-red tones with a broad band enclosing pine, plantain and bamboo trees, all between classic scroll and lotus-lappet bands at the base and leafy peony scroll and foaming wave bands encircling the neck, a stiff leaf band at the neck, the base unglazed
Underglaze copper-red decorated vessels of the Hongwu period are amongst the rarest examples of early Ming dynasty porcelain and those in the form of a meiping are even rarer. Only one other closely related meiping of similar form and size, painted with the design of the 'Three Friends of the Winter', is known – a meiping from the collection of the Nanjing Museum and included in the exhibition Chinese Porcelain in Underglaze Blue from the Nanjing Museum Collection, Sagawa Art Museum, Moriyama, 2003, cat. no. 12. The Nanjing Museum vessel was excavated from the tomb of Song Hu, son-in-law of emperor Yongle, at Dongshanqiao, Jiangning county, Jiangsu province. See a third meiping of this form and size, painted with two three-clawed chilong in the centre broad frieze, sold in these rooms, 13th November 1990, lot 125.
Although copper-red became an important colour for decoration during Hongwu's reign, and according to Liu Xinyuan in 'A Study of early Ming and Yongle imperial porcelain excavated at Zhushan, Jingdezhen', Imperial Hongwu and Yongle Porcelain Excavated at Jingdezhen, Taipei, 1996, p. 52, 'underglaze red porcelain were produced systematically on a considerable scale', very few wares were fired successfully due to the difficulty in controlling the copper-red pigment. Furthermore, although the beginning of the new Ming dynasty brought profound changes to the Jingdezhen potter's repertoire, painted designs for the first three decades remained mainly restricted to formal flower motifs and ornamental borders covering the surface of the vessel in an orderly pattern with little attempt of creating a naturalistic or painterly composition. However, the present and the Nanjing Museum meiping display the potter's attempt to deviate from the norm and produce a design that is more painterly and creative making these two examples even more special. On the style of Hongwu period porcelain decoration Liu ibid., p. 52, notes that 'the subject matter is not as rich and varied as that of the Yuan nor is the brushwork as fluent and lively. Nevertheless, Hongwu porcelain retains a robust quality and it has an independent and distinctive style that was virtually unrepeated in later periods.'
For the variety and range of underglaze copper-red decorated vessels of the Hongwu period see a group illustrated ibid., pls. 195-225, with pls. 199 and 200, two yuhuchun ping, painted with the 'Three Friends of Winter' design. A Hongwu blue-and-white version of the pear-form vase can be found in the Meiyintang collection published in Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, London, 2010, pl. 1624. Krahl, ibid., p. 52, confirms that blue-and-white wares of the Hongwu period are curiously rarer than their copper-red counterparts which can be explained by the shortage of cobalt after imports from the Middle East ceased at the beginning of the Ming dynasty.
The present meiping may have inspired the production of slightly later, Yongle period, blue-and-white examples; see for example a meiping, which has retained its cover, from the Norton collection, sold in our London rooms, 26th March 1963, lot 53; and another published in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Blue and White Porcelain with Underglaze Red (I), Shanghai, 2000, pl. 27.
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