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heavily potted with thick sides rising from a flat base with a broad shallow footring, the exterior glazed evenly with a mottled intense cobalt-blue xuehualan glaze, darkening to a lapis lazuli shade in some areas and fading to a turquoise blue in others, the interior left plain white save for the inscribed six-character reign mark within a double-ring in underglaze blue in the centre
This luminous glaze colour is one of the rarest and most unusual porcelain glazes developed by the Ming imperial kilns. Only eight other examples appear to have survived intact, six of them bowls of the present form, one of the more common smaller bowl shape, with thin walls and flared rim, and a censer with bulging sides and narrow opening. Recent excavations at the Jingdezhen imperial kiln site have, however, shown that in the Xuande period experiments with this glaze were made on many different forms, such as jars and vases, flared bowls of deep U-shape or globular shape, stem bowls, narcissus bowls, and different types of dishes, both with incised decoration and plain. Far more discarded than satisfactorily completed vessels are recorded with this glaze and the low success rate probably explains the extremely short production period of this type. No bowl with this type of glaze appears to be preserved either in the Palace Museum, Beijing, or the National Palace Museum, Taiwan, but the latter museum holds a smaller unmarked piece of the more common bowl shape, with thin walls and flared rim, with an incised lotus pond design.
The glaze is known under various terms, such as salan ('speckled blue'), xuehualan ('snowflake blue'), or qingjinlan ('metallic blue'), of which the former term tends to be preferred in China, while the second has become popular in the West. The cobalt glaze mixture is believed to have been blown onto the already fired porcelain body, and to have been fired on at a lower temperature (around 800°-900° C). In a period which otherwise aimed for smooth uniform monochromes, its intentional mottled effect and varied range of tones, from a light turquoise blue to an intense lapis lazuli colour, are unique. The fact that more unsuccessfully fired and deliberately broken examples were recovered from the waste heaps of the imperial kiln site than approved pieces are preserved, suggests that the variations of the glaze all-too-often proved unacceptable to the kiln supervisors and were therefore rejected. The technique was never properly revived after the Xuande reign, and when a blown-on cobalt glaze was recreated in the Kangxi reign of the Qing dynasty, the pigment was covered with a transparent glaze and fired at high temperature.
A very similar bowl is in the Capital Museum, Beijing, see Shoudu Bowuguan cang ci xuan [Selection of porcelains from the Capital Museum], Beijing, 1991, pl. 104; another from the Sir Percival David Collection is in the British Museum, London, illustrated in Regina Krahl and Jessica Harrison-Hall, Chinese Ceramics. Highlights of the Sir Percival David Collection, London, 2009, pl. 34; and two others appeared at auction, one at Sotheby's London, 16th May 1967, lot 95; the other, originally the pair to the present piece, was sold in these rooms, 1st May 2001, lot 510. A similar bowl, probably one of the above, is also illustrated in Helen D. Ling and E.T. Chow, Complete Collection of Ming Dynasty Kingtehchen Porcelain from the Hall of Disciplined Learning, Hong Kong, 1950, vol. I, pl. 54.
Two similar bowls also exist with incised decoration of dragons, one in the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., published in Oriental Ceramics. The World's Great Collections, Tokyo, New York, San Francisco, 1980-82, vol. 9, no. 97; the other, formerly in the collections of Edward T. Chow and of T.Y. Chao, illustrated in Geng Baochang, Ming Qing ciqi jianding [Appraisal of Ming and Qing porcelain], Hong Kong, 1993, col. pl. 16, was sold twice in these rooms, 25th November 1980, lot 50, and 19th May 1987, lot 245. For the unmarked bowl in Taiwan see 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. 131; for the censer see Sotheby's Hong Kong, 8th October 2010, lot 2620.
A fragmentary bowl of the present form excavated from the Ming imperial kiln site was included in the exhibition Jingdezhen chutu Ming Xuande guanyao ciqi/Xuande Imperial Porcelain Excavated at Jingdezhen, Chang Foundation, Taipei, 1998, cat. no. 15, and fragmentary vessels of various other shapes with this glaze, also from the imperial kiln site, are published ibid., cat. nos. 114, F 33-5, and in 'Jiangxi Jingdezhen Ming Qing yuyao yizhi fajue jianbao/Brief Excavation Report on Imperial Kiln of the Ming and Qing Dynasties Located in Jingdezhen City of Jiangxi Province', Wenwu, 2007, no. 5, cover, pls. 57-62, and fig. 2 inside of back cover.
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