China, Jiangxi Province, Jingdezhen Kilns, Ming Dynasty, Xuande Period / Brush Washer / 1426-1435China, Jiangxi Province, Jingdezhen Kilns, Ming Dynasty, Xuande Period
Brush Washer

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Creator Nationality: Asian; Far East Asian; Chinese
Creator Dates/Places: China
Creator Active Place: China
Creator Name-CRT: China, Jiangxi Province, Jingdezhen Kilns, Ming Dynasty, Xuande Period
Title: Brush Washer
Title Type: Primary
View: Full View
Creation Start Date: 1426
Creation End Date: 1435
Creation Date: 1426-1435
Object Type: Decorative Arts and Utilitarian Objects
Classification Term: Ceramic
Materials and Techniques: porcelain with underglaze blue decoration
Dimensions: Diameter: 18cm
AMICA Contributor: The Cleveland Museum of Art
Owner Location: Cleveland, Ohio, USA
ID Number: 1964.166
Credit Line: Severance and Greta Millikin Collection
Context: Southern Chinese potters began to decorate their porcelains with underglaze blue painted designs during the late Yuan dynasty. Adapted from existing methods of ornamenting Persian ceramics, the technically superior Chinese products were readily marketable in the Near East. In fact, foreign demand encouraged increased production in China and directly affected manufacturing techniques, chiefly the expanded use of molds and templates for shaping. Compared with earlier southern porcelains (see page 69), these new wares were heavy and covered with more thickly applied glazes. Be that as it may, these sturdy white vessels embellished with rich cobalt designs were the finest ceramics the world had ever seen. Although selected shapes were manufactured for the domestic market as early as the mid-fourteenth century, the popularity of the new ware did not flourish in China until the early Ming. At that time, a wider array of traditional forms decorated with appealing indigenous motifs--beautifully exemplified by this blue-and-white brush washer with imperial dragons--were made for the royal household as well as the indigenous commercial market. Such Chinese desk items had been created in clay for centuries (see page 55), and earlier examples of foliated brush washers exist among surviving Song imperial wares. Filled with water, they were used to clean ink out of writing and painting brushes. Such beautiful pieces reflect not only the cultivation of their owners, but also the importance of everything connected withthe art of writing. While Chinese emperors, scholars, and officials may have always prized their special brush or ink grindstone, interest in all the accouterments of the desk rose in tandem with the social and economic fortunes of the educated class. Thedragon, seen here both inside the basin and in the recessed foot as well as in ten roundels around the exterior, was a favored motif from its first appearance on archaic bronzes through its selection as the paramount imperial symbol. For its depiction here, the painter varied the intensity of his color by altering the cobalt content of the pigment he applied directly to the ceramic body, thereby enhancing the three-dimensional effect and spiny character of his design. Whether made strictly for the imperial household or not, the presence of the dragon on pieces such as this one signals increasing palace involvement in production at the Jingdezhen factories. In fact, as early as 1433--at about the same time this brush washer was created--the palace was ordering more than 400,000 porcelains decorated with underglaze blue dragons and phoenixes. Although it does not bear an imperial reign mark, the attractive tonal range found in the painted decoration, resulting from the irregular size of cobalt bits in thepigment, and the pocked glaze surface are characteristic of the stunning objects made at the royal Jingdezhen kilns--still in the first century of their operation--during the reign of the early Ming emperor Xuande (1426-35). K.W.
AMICA ID: CMA_.1964.166
AMICA Library Year: 1998
Media Metadata Rights: Copyright, The Cleveland Museum of Art

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