Rare Ming royal stem bowl to fea­ture at Christie’s auc­tion

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE - By LIN QI linqi@chi­nadaily.com.cn

A 15th-cen­tury qinghua (blue-and-white) stem bowl that was meant for the sac­ri­fi­cial rit­u­als of Chi­nese em­per­ors will go un­der the ham­mer at Christie’s sale in Hong Kong on Nov 30.

The bowl from the Ming Dy­nasty (1368-1644) fea­tures two five-clawed dragons — sym­bol of im­pe­rial power. One dragon charges ahead and the other looks back, above crest­ing waves and moun­tains.

The bowl’s in­side fea­tures a six-char­ac­ter mark in the cen­ter cir­cled by dou­ble rings — which in­di­cates that it was “pro­duced in the reign of Xuande (1426-35)”, the ti­tle of Em­peror Zhu Zhanji dur­ing whose reign the pro­duc­tion of blue-and-white ware reached its peak.

Fur­ther, the mark is sur­rounded by shadow pat­terns of strid­ing dragons that are hard to spot at first sight.

Typ­i­cally, the blue-and­white ce­ram­ics were coated with cobalt-blue pig­ment from Per­sia and made at high tem­per­a­tures. And the fi­nal re­sult still amazes con­nois­seurs of Chi­nese porce­lain, both at home and abroad.

The stem bowl cel­e­brates the tech­ni­cal and aes­thetic achieve­ments of the Xuande reign, not only with its re­fined tech­nique of pen­cil­ing the dragons, the waves and other dec­o­ra­tive pat­terns, ac­cord­ing to Ruben Lien from the Christie’s depart­ment of Chi­nese ce­ram­ics and works of art, but also be­cause it ex­hibits well­bal­anced and vary­ing tones of blue. The dragons and the peaks are painted in a rich blue, while the rolling waves are in a soft, pale blue.

He says the con­trast in the col­or­ing marks a “break­through” for the pe­riod, ex­em­pli­fy­ing the ar­ti­sans’ con­trol over the cobalt pig­ments.

The bowl is owned by a collector from the United States. It fetched HK$35 mil­lion ($4.51 mil­lion) at a Sotheby’s auc­tion in Hong Kong in 2007.

In­clud­ing this bowl, no more than six ex­am­ples of bowls of a sim­i­lar de­sign and size are in ex­is­tence, Lien says.

Some of them are in the col­lec­tions of Paris-based Musee Guimet and the Palace mu­se­ums in Bei­jing and Taipei. Of the bowls in pri­vate hands, one from the noted Meiy­in­tang Col­lec­tion was sold for HK$112.7 mil­lion in Hong Kong in 2012.

Lien says Ming Dy­nasty porce­lain, es­pe­cially that pro­duced in the early stages of the em­pire, such as the Xuande and the Yon­gle pe­ri­ods, have re­cently at­tracted in­creased at­ten­tion from col­lec­tors who pre­vi­ously eyed only Qing Dy­nasty (1644-1911) royal ob­jects.

Speak­ing about the bowl, he says: “As Xuande and Yon­gle ce­ram­ics avail­able in the mar­ket are not as nu­mer­ous as Qing ob­jects from the reigns of Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qian­long (the porce­lain-mak­ing peaks of the Qing Dy­nasty), a fine, rare spec­i­men (like the bowl) is bound to draw peo­ple’s at­ten­tion.”

“Ris­ing in­ter­est has also brought in new buy­ers,” he says.

A blue-and-white jar also from the Xuande pe­riod and bear­ing a five-clawed dragon grossed HK$158 mil­lion at a Christie’s sale in Hong Kong in May. It was owned by a Swiss fam­ily and was used to store walk­ing sticks.

In April, Sotheby’s staged in Hong Kong an auc­tion of Bri­tish collector Roger Pilk­ing­ton’s ce­ram­ics and works of art from the Song (9601279), Ming and early Qing dy­nas­ties. Ming cobalt-blue ware com­prised the top five lots at the sale that yielded nearly HK$503 mil­lion in to­tal.

Be­sides the Xuande stem bowl, Christie’s will also auc­tion two ce­ramic pieces made in the of­fi­cial kilns of Qing em­peror Yongzheng. Both fea­ture com­mon sub­jects such as flow­ers and birds.

One is a falang­cai (enam­eled) cup on which plum blos­soms and trees and bam­boos are painted in yel­low, green and brown against a ruby-red ground. The de­pic­tion of a pair of hov­er­ing bees over the flow­er­ing plum branch makes it a rar­ity among such ware, says Lien.

The sub­jects sig­nify longevity, wealth and hap­pi­ness, and the vivid, souf­fle-like tex­ture of the ruby ground en­hances its el­e­gance.

The cup be­longed to the late Hu Huichun, a porce­lain con­nois­seur whose Zan­de­lou col­lec­tion is hailed one of the best pri­vate col­lec­tions of Chi­nese art from the 20th cen­tury.

Hu moved to Hong Kong from Shang­hai in the 1950s and co-founded the prom­i­nent col­lec­tors’ group Min Chui So­ci­ety. He do­nated a large part of his col­lec­tion to the Shang­hai Mu­seum.

Lien says af­ter Hu’s death, his fam­ily sold the Yongzheng cup to the cur­rent owner, mean­ing that the item has come to auc­tion for the first time, or as “fresh goods” as de­scribed in the trade.

The other piece is a moon­shaped blue-and-white flask. One side has two mag­pies rest­ing on a blos­som­ing plum branch, and the other has two bul­buls on an apri­cot tree. The exquisitely bal­anced com­po­si­tion can be traced to North­ern Song paint­ings. The mo­tif was a fa­vorite of Em­peror Yongzheng dur­ing whose reign sim­i­lar de­signs were pro­duced.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

The 15th-cen­tury stem bowl is up for sale.

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