Porcelain tankards were made, with minor variations, both in the Yongle and Xuande periods, the former existing also in monochrome white and being always unmarked. The shape had been inspired by Islamic metal prototypes, like a few other early Ming porcelain vessel forms manufactured in this era of intense interaction with the Islamic world, when the Muslim Admiral, General Zheng He, embarked on his global voyages. These tankards appear to have been particular favourites of the Yongzheng Emperor. Two extant handscrolls of the Yongzheng period, Guwantu ('Pictures of Antiques'), from the Sir Percival David collection in the British Museum, and in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, dated in accordance with 1728 and 1729, respectively, depicting works of art from the Imperial collection include three such vessels from the early Ming period, all safely displayed on encompassing wooden stands, see China. The Three Emperors 1662-1795, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2005-2006, cat. nos 168 and 169 (see a tankard of this design at the top right section of no. 169, fig. 1).
Close Islamic metal and jade counterparts are known from the 15th and 16th centuries, but the basic shape might be based on earlier Persian prototypes. A 10th- or 11th-century jug from eastern Iran and four 15th-century examples in bronze, copper and brass are illustrated in Assadullah Souren Melikian-Chirvani, Islamic Metalwork from the Iranian World. 8th-18th Centuries, London, 1982, nos 8, 109, 113-4, 116, all of which have (or had), however, a ring foot. Compare also an Islamic jade tankard attributed to 1450-1500, with no ring foot, included in David Roxburgh, ed. Turks: A Journey of a Thousand Years, 600-1600, catalogue of an exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2005, cat. no. 184; and a white jade tankard with ring foot, made in Samarkand between 1417 and 1449, published in Ma Wenkuan, 'A Study of Islamic Elements in Ming Dynasty Porcelain', in Li Baoping, Bruce Doar and Susan Dewar eds., Porcelain and Society, China Archaeology and Art Digest, vol. 3, no. 4, June 2000, pp. 7-38, fig. 20. See also the painting The Sultan and His Court, of c. 1450-1460, which depicts the Sultan and his Janissaries with several pieces of blue-and-white ware including a tankard, illustrated in John Carswell, Blue & White: Chinese Porcelain Around the World, London, 2000, fig. 67. Also noteworthy is a mid-15th century Islamic earthenware tankard painted with the motif of a Chinese dragon in blue, in Margaret Medley, 'Islamic and Chinese Porcelain in the 14th and Early 15th Centuries', Oriental Ceramic Society of Hong Kong Bulletin, no. 6, 1982-1984, fig. 15.
Although tankards of this form and design represent one of the best-known porcelain shapes of the Xuande period, this is due more to their distinctive character than a profusion of extant examples. Similar examples, although frequently illustrated, are rare. One piece from the Qing court collection is illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Blue and White Porcelain with Underglazed Red. I, Shanghai, 2000, pl. 121, together with a similar piece painted with stylised blooms with feathery petals, pl. 120, both of which are also included in Wang Guangyao and Jiang Jianxin eds, Imperial Porcelains from the Reign of Xuande in the Ming Dynasty: A Comparison of Porcelains from the Imperial Kiln Site at Jingdezhen and the Imperial Collection of the Palace Museum, catalogue of an exhibition at the Palace Museum, Beijing, 2015, cat. nos 72-73. Another piece in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, is included in the Museum’s exhibition Mingdai Xuande guanyao jinghua tezhan tulu/Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of Selected Hsüan-te Imperial Porcelains of the Ming Dynasty, Taipei, 1998, cat. no. 11. Compare also an example in the Shanghai Museum, illustrated in Lu Minghua, Shanghai Bowuguan zangpin yanjiu daxi/Studies of the Shanghai Museum Collections: A Series of Monographs. Mingdai guanyao ciqi [Ming imperial porcelain], Shanghai, 2007, pl. 3-27. Compare also an example from the Sir Percival David collection, now in the British Museum, included in Stacey Pierson, Blue and White for China: Porcelain Treasures in the Percival David Collection, London, 2004, no. 18. A misfired and broken example of this design has been recovered from the waste heaps of the Ming imperial kilns at Jingdezhen, see the exhibition catalogue Xuande Imperial Porcelain Excavated at Jingdezhen, Chang Foundation, Taipei, 1998, cat. no. 23.
Tankards of this type have rarely been offered at auction. A similar piece, formerly in the collections of Edward T. Chow (circa 1950) and J.M. Hu, and later the Meiyintang collection, sold in our New York rooms, 4th June 1985, lot 2, again in these rooms, 7th April 2011, lot 53, illustrated in Helen D. Ling and E.T. Chow, Collection of Chinese Ceramics from the Pavilion of Ephemeral Attainment, Hong Kong, 1950, vol. 1, pl. 38, and in Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, London, 1994-2010, vol. 2, no. 674. Another tankard from the collection of Mrs Wright Segelin, sold in our London rooms, 20th February 1968, lot 88 and again in these rooms 14th November 1989, lot 21, is illustrated in Nuno de Castro, A Ceramica e a porcelana Chinesas, Porto, 1992, vol. 2, pl. 18; and one from the collection of R.H.R. Palmer was sold at Christie's London, 14th June 1982, lot 81 and in these rooms 17th May 1988, lot 22.
See also a Xuande-marked tankard painted with stylised blooms with feathery petals, once in the collections of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Cole of New York and T.Y. Chao, was sold in our London rooms, 8th July 1974, lot 188, and twice in these rooms, 19th May 1987, lot 236, and 30th October 2002, lot 283, included in the exhibition Ming Porcelains: A Retrospective, China House Gallery, China Institute in America, New York, 1970-1971, cat. no. 11, and is illustrated in Duncan Macintosh, Chinese Blue and White Porcelain, London, 1986, pl. 23. Two tankards of this variation were sold in these rooms: one from the Su Lin An collection, 31st October 1995, lot 314, and the other from the Pilkington collection, 6th April 2016, lot 22 (fig. 2).
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