Please note that this vase was exhibited at the Chang Foundation, Ching Wan Society Millennium Exhibition, 2000, and illustrated in the Catalogue, p. 173, no. 78.
A SUPERB BLUE AND WHITE YUHUCHUNPING
ROSEMARY SCOTT - INTERNATIONAL ACADEMIC DRIECTOR, ASIAN ART
Not only is this Hongwu vase well-fired and in excellent condition, but very rare since most of the few surviving Hongwu yuhuchunping are decorated in underglaze copper red, rather than the cobalt blue of the current vessel. Although recent excavations of the Hongwu strata at the imperial kilns at Jingdezhen have unearthed a greater number and wider range of porcelains decorated in underglaze cobalt blue than had been expected, nevertheless blue and white Hongwu porcelains are still considerably rarer than underglaze copper red wares. Various reasons have been suggested for this disproportionate number of copper red porcelains, including a predilection for the colour red on the part of the Hongwu emperor, and a scarcity of imported cobalt because of the restriction of foreign trade during the Hongwu period.
Two underglaze blue yuhuchunping from the collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei, have been published by Liu Liang-yu in A Survey of Chinese Ceramics 4 Ming Official Wares, Taipei, 1991, pp. 22-23. One of these Taipei vases is decorated with a lotus scroll (p. 23), while the other (p. 22) bears a similar peony scroll to that seen on the current vase [Fig. 1]. Only one other blue and white yuhuchunping from the Hongwu period with this peony design appears to have been published. This vase is preserved in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing (illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - Blue and White Porcelain with Underglazed Red (I), Hong Kong, 2000, p. 16, pl. 14) [Fig. 2]. A Hongwu blue and white yuhuchunping in the Philadelphia Museum of Art is illustrated by Margaret Medley in Yuan Porcelain and Stoneware, London, 1974, pl. 51b. This has chrysanthemums in its main decorative band.
All of these blue and white yuhuchunping have a classic scroll around the foot, a lotus petal band around the base of the vase, a lappet band around the shoulder, plantain leaves around the upper part of the neck extending beneath the flared mouth, and below the plantain a band of squared spirals. While the vase with lotus scroll in the National Palace Museum has a rather large-scale lappet band, with internal striations, on the shoulder, all three of those decorated with peony bands, as well as the vase with chrysanthemums, have much smaller-scale lappets, which are filled with solid blue colour. The point of departure from this homogeneous decorative scheme on the peony vases, and chrysanthemum vase, is found in the band that appears between the lappets and the squared spiral band. On the vase in the National Palace Museum this band contains a heavy white classic scroll reserved against a blue ground. On the vase in the Palace Museum Beijing the band contains a classic scroll painted in fine lines in underglaze blue. The current vase and the Philadelphia vase have perhaps the most accomplished bands, which contain finely-painted lingzhi fungus scrolls.
A similar lingzhi fungus scroll can be seen in a similar position on a pear-shaped ewer in the collection of the Palace Museum Beijing (illustrated The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - Blue and White Porcelain with Underglazed Red (I), op. cit., p. 17, pl. 15). As Sir John Addis pointed out in his paper, "A Group of Underglaze Red", Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, Vol. 31, 1957-1959, pp. 15-48, the pear-shaped vases and pear-shaped ewers of the Hongwu reign are very closely linked - the ewers essentially being the same form and decorative lay-out as the vases with the addition of spout, linking strut, handle and lid. Three Hongwu blue and white ewers, excavated from the site of the imperial kilns, were exhibited at the Chang Foundation in 1996 (see Imperial Hongwu and Yongle Porcelain excavated at Jingdezhen, Taipei, 1996, pp. 70-75, nos. 2-4). Two of these ewers have freely-painted designs of plants with rocks in a landscape setting as their main decorative band. One of these has a chrysanthemum scroll above the lappet band, while the other has a camellia band. The third excavated ewer has a chrysanthemum scroll as its major decorative band, while above the lappets is a lingzhi fungus band similar to that on the current vase. A ewer from the Idemitsu Collection, painted with very similar peony scrolls to those on the current vase, is illustrated in Sekai Toji Zenshu, vol. 14, Ming, Japan, 1976, pl. 1, and has a lotus scroll above the lappet band. Another ewer with chrysanthemums in the major band and a pomegranate scroll above the shoulder lappets, was sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 27 October 2003, lot 627 [Fig. 3].
Hongwu yuhuchunping are of a particularly elegant form, which developed from the Yuan dynasty pear-shaped vases. In contrast to the Yuan version of the form, the Hongwu vessels have a slightly lower centre of gravity and are wider around the body producing a greater contrast with the slender neck and providing a more accentuated s-shaped profile. Sir John Addis, op. cit., noted that silver Yuan dynasty pear-shaped vases were excavated at Hefei in Anhui province from a site datable to AD 1333, and it is possible that the form originated in metal. All Hongwu porcelain vases of this shape, whether decorated in underglaze cobalt blue or copper red, are particularly vulnerable to damage at their slender necks, where they are thinly potted. A vase of this form, painted with a chrysanthemum scroll in both its major decorative band and above the lappets, which had previously been damaged and reduced at the neck, was sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 16 May 1989, lot 114. It is extremely rare to find a Hongwu pear-shaped vase in the perfect condition of the current vase.
One of the particularly aesthetically pleasing features of the current vase is the richness of the leaves on the peony scroll. It is rare to find Hongwu blue and white vases of this type with boldly scrolling stems bearing flowers, although vases with similar decoration in underglaze-red are well known. While some blue and white vessels have peony scrolls with rather thin stems and somewhat meagre leaves, the copper-red versions tend to have more densely rendered leaves, filling the available white space more generously, in the manner that can be seen on the current blue and white vase. A pear-shaped vase with a similar ratio of underglaze decoration to white space as the current vase is a copper red example in the collection of the Palace Museum Beijing (illustrated The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - Blue and White Porcelain with Underglazed Red (I), op. cit., p. 211, no. 196), which also shares with the current vase peonies in the main decorative band and a lingzhi fungus scroll above the lappet band. A Hongwu copper red pear-shaped ewer, also in the Palace Museum collection, shares a similar ratio of underglaze decoration to white space, as well as peony scrolls in the main decorative band and a lingzhi fungus scroll above the lappet band.
It seems clear that in the Hongwu reign pear-shaped vases and pear-shaped ewers decorated in underglaze cobalt blue and underglaze copper red were being made by the same craftsmen at the same kilns at the same time. However, of all these vessels underglaze blue vases like the current example are certainly the most rare.
THE PROPERTY OF A GENTLEMAN
The Chang Foundation, Taipei, Ching Wan Society Millennium Exhibition, 2000, illustrated in the Catalogue, p. 173, no. 78