Chinese / Bowl / Ming period, Xuande era, 1426-1435Chinese
Ming period, Xuande era, 1426-1435

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Creator Nationality: Asian; Far East Asian; Chinese
Creator Name-CRT: Chinese
Title: Bowl
View: Full View
Creation Start Date: 1426
Creation End Date: 1435
Creation Date: Ming period, Xuande era, 1426-1435
Creation Place: China, Jiangxi Province
Object Type: Decorative Arts and Utilitarian Objects
Classification Term: Ceramics
Materials and Techniques: Porcelain painted with underglaze cobalt blue and copper red (Jingdezhen ware)
Dimensions: H. 3 in. (7.6 cm); D. 6 7/8 (17.5 cm)
AMICA Contributor: Asia Society
Owner Location: New York, New York, USA
ID Number: 1979.167
Credit Line: Asia Society: The Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection
Context: Noted for their refined bodies and elegant shapes, porcelains made during the reigns of the Xuande (1426-1435) and Chenghua (1465-1487) emperors of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) are ranked among the finest examples of imperial Chinese wares. Many of the characteristics of 15th-century porcelains result from increased imperial interest in ceramics. Ceramic production during this time--which was the near-exclusive domain of the imperial Jingdezhen kilns at Jiangxi Province--is noted for the development and refinement of techniques for making and decorating wares, experimentation with shapes and designs, and the widespread use of reign marks (inscriptions that identify the name of the dynasty and the reign name of an emperor). The six-character mark on the interior of the base of this small bowl reads 'made during the Xuande reign of the great Ming dynasty' (da Ming Xuande nian zhi). The bowl originally had a cover, and its shape suggests that it was once part of a larger set of dishes used for dining.

Themotif of dragons chasing flaming pearls among waves on the exterior of this bowl was painted with two different underglaze colors. The waves, pearls, and clouds are in cobalt blue, while the powerful dragons are in copper red. Here, the design of the dragons was lightly stamped into the clay before the design was painted, possibly in an attempt to control the flow of the notoriously difficult copper red during firing. The combination of copper red and cobalt blue indicates that this bowl was considered an especially luxurious piece, while the depiction of the dragons with five claws shows that it was intended for the use of the emperor.

Although dragons had long been used as symbols of imperial power in China, in the 15th century the motif of a dragon chasing a pearl became a prominent imperial symbol in the arts. The flaming pearl might represent the sun or the moon--either would be an appropriate symbol of the emperor's power. It also has a close affinity to the so-called wish-granting jewel (chintamani, 'jewel of wisdom,' which is also in flames) that is often held by Buddhist deities. Just as this type of pearl is popularly believed to be able to grant material or spiritual wishes to the devout, so could it have been used to illustrate the power and benevolence of the emperor.

Related Document Description: Asia Society. Handbook of the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection. New York: Asia Society, [1981], p. 75.
AMICA ID: ASIA.1979.167
AMICA Library Year: 1999
Media Metadata Rights: Copyright, Asia Society

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