Chinese / Jar / Ming period, late 14th centuryChinese
Ming period, late 14th century

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Creator Nationality: Asian; Far East Asian; Chinese
Creator Name-CRT: Chinese
Title: Jar
View: Full View
Creation Start Date: 1366
Creation End Date: 1399
Creation Date: Ming period, late 14th century
Creation Place: China, Jiangxi Province
Object Type: Decorative Arts and Utilitarian Objects
Classification Term: Ceramics
Materials and Techniques: Porcelain painted with underglaze copper red (Jingdezhen ware)
Dimensions: H. 20 in. (50.8 cm); D. 16 3/4 in. (42.5 cm)
AMICA Contributor: Asia Society
Owner Location: New York, New York, USA
ID Number: 1979.153
Credit Line: Asia Society: The Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection
Context: The history of the Chinese ceramic industry from the late 13th to the early 15th century is one of constant innovation in both technology and taste. Unlike the earlier Song period, during which a wide range of types was produced in kilns throughout China, during the Yuan (1279-1368) and Ming (1368-1644) dynasties, most ceramics were produced at the Jingdezhen kiln complexes located in Jiangxi Province. Some of the earliest porcelain in the world was manufactured at this complex, the site of some of the most important technical innovations and refinements in the history of ceramics, including the perfection of the technique for painting decoration under the glaze using a blue pigment derived from cobalt (imported from Iran, where it had long been used in ceramic glazes). This technology led to the creation of China's famous blue-and-white wares.

Another innovation, seen on the large jar illustrated here, was the use of underglaze red, colored using a copper oxide. The red color of the underglaze copper pigment is notoriously difficult to achieve during firing, and pieces decorated exclusively with this color are scarcer than the well-known blue-and-white examples. Nonetheless, underglaze copper-red wares became popular and were made in some number during the reign of the first Ming emperor, Hongwu (r. 1368-1398). Shards from such wares were discovered at the Hongwu palace site in Nanjing, which suggests that they were used at the court. The presence of several copper-red wares from the late 14th century in the palace museums in Beijing and Taipei also supports this presumption. In addition, some ceramics decorated with a copper-based pigment were exported; examples are known in the Philippines.

This guan-shaped jar provides an outstanding example of a late 14th-century porcelain painted with a copper-red pigment. The jar, which once had a cover and a slightly longer neck, was probably used for storage. Although the copper-red decoration retains the density and complexity characteristic of Yuan-period design, its strong spatial organization helps to date it to the early Ming period. The painting is carefully divided into several registers: ruyi-shaped designs encircle the truncated neck, while leaf-shaped designs filled with flowers and a horizontal band containing a floral arabesque cover the shoulder. Two rows of similar leaf-shaped images divided by a small band with a key-fret motif encircle the base.

The central section is painted with a traditional Chinese theme called the Three Friends of Winter (suihan sanyou): the pine, plum, and bamboo, which flourish even under adverse conditions, are symbols of longevity, perseverance, and integrity, the innate virtues of the ideal scholar-gentleman. Although it has a long history in Chinese literature, the theme did not become popular in Chinese art until the 14th century. The emergence of this theme during this time has often been interpreted as a subtle Chinese response to Mongol domination. It is possible that a similar rationale underlies its appearance in the decorative arts at the time.

On this jar, the overall theme is reiterated by the presence of the orchid--another symbol of the scholar-gentleman--which has been added to the principal motifs. The camellias, roses, plantains, and strangely shaped Taihu rocks on the jar indicate that the Three Friends are growing within the confines of a traditional scholar-gentleman's garden. The high quality of the painting on this jar and its large size indicate that it was an expensive item, probably made for a wealthy scholar-gentleman or possibly for the court.

Related Document Description: Asia Society. Handbook of the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection. New York: Asia Society, [1981], p. 70.
Related Document Description: Bickford, Maggie, et al. Bones of Jade, Soul of Ice: The Flowering Plum in Chinese Art. New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery, 1985, pp. 209-13, 277, 291.
Related Document Description: Bickford, Maggie, et al. Bones of Jade, Soul of Ice: The Flowering Plum in Chinese Art. New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery, 1985, pp.209-13, 277, 291.
Related Document Description: Lee, Sherman E. Asian Art: Selections from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd--Part II. New York: Asia Society, 1975, pp. 50, 97.
Related Document Description: Medley, Margaret. 'Style and Symbolism in Underglaze-Decorated Chinese Porcelain.' Apollo (November 1983), pp. 403-04.
Related Document Description: Mowry, Robert D. 'A Ming Blue and White Plate.' Art and Auction 7 (November 1984), p. 111.
Related Document Description: Treasures of Asian Art: Selections from the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection, The Asia Society, New York. Hong Kong and Singapore: Hong Kong Museum of Art and National Museum Singapore, 1993, pp. 122, 123.
Related Document Description: Treasures of Asian Art: Selections from the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection, The Asia Society, New York. Tokyo: Idemitsu Museum of Arts, 1992, pp. 80, 136.
AMICA ID: ASIA.1979.153
AMICA Library Year: 1998
Media Metadata Rights: Copyright, Asia Society

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