A Blue and White Bowl with Interlock Branch Lotus, Ming Xuande Reign

A Blue and White Bowl with Interlock Branch Lotus, Ming Xuande Reign

Seal mark: “Made in Xuande Reign, Ming Dynasty”
Height: 17.3cm
Auctioned at Sotheby’s United Kingdom
16th June 1999
lot 790

The imperial porcelains made for the court during Xuande reign of Ming Dynasty were the climax of Chinese ceramics production. They stand the test of time and can be model for the coming generations. In Xuande period, under the order of the royal family, with the improvement of production and firing technology, and the vivid artistic characteristics, the most outstanding blue and white porcelains in the history of Chinese porcelains were created by using the imported blue and white raw materials, which turned to be imitated by descendant since its birth

In Xuande reign, the quality control of imperial kiln was very strict. A large number of debris unearthed in Xuande stratum of Jingdezhen imperial kiln revealed the high quality requirements at that time. Any porcelain that could not meet the standards was destroyed and buried.

The fine quality and diverse patterns of imperial kiln porcelains reflect the artistic taste and pursuit of Xuande Emperor himself. The body of Xuande porcelains is low in calcium and high in potassium and thus has high light transmittance. In this period, the glazing of underglaze blue and white was fully mastered.

This bowl is typical of Xuande period. It is made of imported Samarra-blue, so the blue and white glaze is light, elegant and soft, which is extremely rare at that time. The color of its glaze can rank among the finest in the works of the same period. Its glaze is thick and lustrous, the lines of interlock branch lotus pattern are smooth and simple, and the painted flowers and leaves are vivid.

Zhu Zhanji, Xuande Emperor of the Ming Dynasty

Xuande Emperor was diligent in his governance and adored Confucianism. China was peaceful and prosperous then. He was deeply influenced by his grandfather, Yongle Emperor, who believed in Buddhism. The Buddhist temples and pagodas built during Yongle reign were later finally completed by Xuande Emperor. For example, the great Baoen temple and its porcelain tower in Nanjing.

At this time, the porcelains made by Jingdezhen imperial kiln also reflected the influence of Tibetan Buddhism. The ritual vessels of Xuande reign mostly replaced the monochromatic white glaze of the previous dynasties with blue and white, while blue and white porcelains were decorated with the patterns of interlock branch lotus, lotus petals, Buddha and lions, the eight auspicious symbols and so on. The interlaced floral and scroll grass patterns were learned from the Western, transmitted from the Mediterranean countries, through Central Asia and ancient India, and then to China. They were first applied in Buddhist architecture or stone carving, gradually in silver ritual vessels, and finally became porcelain decorations.

The original script of this porcelain’s seal mark probably belonged to Shen Du who was great calligrapher at that time. Shen Du’s calligraphy was deeply appreciated by the emperor, who often learned from him. Therefore, Wan Li Yehuo Bian praised Xuande Emperor’s calligraphy as “learning from Yan Qingchen, with a little attitude of Shen Du”. Shen had a great impact on the court cultural life in the early Ming Dynasty.

According to the seventh volume of Yu Tang Conghua written by Jiao Hong, “the emperor loved Shen Du’s calligraphy so much that he ordered Shen to write all the official documents needed and reserved by the imperial court and ancestral temple.”

The three characters “Xuande” and “Nian” in Shen Du’s famous work epitaph of Zhanghuan are very similar to those on porcelain, no matter the size of the points, the length of the strokes, the strength when writing, and the structure of characters. It can be seen that the seal mark on this bowl was written by Shen Du and then copied by craftsmen.

Written by Shen Du in the 2nd year of Xuande Period (1427), Ming Dynasty
Manuscript on paper, in regular script, published in Japan Collected Works of Chinese Calligraphy

Because of the special technology, Xuande-reign blue and white porcelain was very unusual in Ming Dynasty. Xie Zhaozhe, who lived in Jiajing period, commented it in Wu Za Zu: “The porcelains of Xuande period not only have precious shapes and colors, but also excellent calligraphy and paintings.”

Just because of this, Xuande-reign porcelains have been highly complimented after, and have always been priceless. In Liuqing Rizha by Tian Yiheng, Ming Dynasty, the author said their value astonished him. Today, Xuande-reign imperial blue and white works are important collections even in the world’s major museums, and few can be privately owned.

A blue and white bowl with interlock branch Lotus, seal mark of Made in Ming Xuande Reign
Diameter: 17.3cm
Auctioned at Sotheby’s Hong Kong
3rd April 2019, lot 0010
Transaction price: HK$109.75 million

A blue and white bowl, Xuande Reign, Ming Dynasty
Diameter: 17.3cm
Jessica, H. H., Catalogue of Ming Ceramics in the British Museum, Beijing: the Forbidden City Publishing House, (1)