Edward T. Chow
Previously sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 1 May 1995, lot 642
AN IMPORTANT AND RARE BLUE AND WHITE YUHUCHUNPING
ROSEMARY SCOTT, INTERNATIONAL ACADEMIC DRIECTOR, ASIAN ART
The elegant form of this Yongle pear-shaped vase is one that came to prominence in the Yuan dynasty, underwent some proportional changes in the first Ming dynasty reign of the Hongwu emperor, and then in the Yongle reign developed its classic shape. In addition to subtle alterations in form, the Yongle yuhuchunping also benefited from a greater range of decorative motifs, a reduction in the number of decorative bands, and a greater flexibility as to the width of those bands and their relationship to each other.
While relatively few Yongle pear-shaped vases have survived - apparently fewer than pear-shaped ewers - an identical vase to the current example is in the collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei (illustrated in Porcelain of the National Palace Museum, Blue-and-white Ware of the Ming Dynasty - Book I, Hong Kong, 1963, pp. 44-5, pls. 2 and 2a-b) [Fig. 1]. Three features on these two vases are particularly distinctive. Firstly, around the base of the body is a vividly painted band of turbulent waves, rather than the lotus petal band seen on most other examples. Secondly, they have a band of plantain leaves around the middle of the neck, above which is a band of knobbed classic scrolls. This is unusual, since plantain leaves are generally placed just below the rim, as on the pear-shaped vase decorated in its major band with plants and rocks, from 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. 35, no. 33), on which the position of the plantain leaves and the knobbed classic scroll are reversed, with the latter appearing below the plantain leaves.
Nevertheless, two more Yongle pear-shaped vases have the feature of a band of plantain leaves around the middle of the neck, in their case below a band of lingzhi fungus. These vases from the collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei (illustrated in Catalogue of A Special Exhibition of Early Ming Period Porcelain, Taipei, 1982, p. 47, no. 14) and the collection of the Percival David Foundation (illustrated by R. Scott in Elegant Form and Harmonious Decoration - Four Dynasties of Jingdezhen Porcelain, London, 1992, p. 38, no. 25), have daylilies and butterflies in their major decorative band, above which is a band of small ruyi, above which is a peony scroll.
Interestingly, two further Yongle yuhuchunping have leaf or elongated petal bands in the middle of the neck. These are a vase in the collection of the Ardebil Shrine in Iran (illustrated by John Pope in Chinese Porcelains from the Ardebil Shrine, London, reprinted 1981 edition, pl. 53, no. 29.447), and a vase from the Oppenheimer collection, now in the British Museum, London (illustrated by J. Harrison-Hall, Ming Ceramics in the British Museum, London, 2001, p. 107, no. 3:17). The leaf/petal bands on the Ardebil and British Museum vases are not strictly plantain leaves, but are shorter and much simplified by comparison. On these two vases the band above the plantain is filled by a lotus scroll, rather than the knobbed classic scroll on the current vase and its companion in the National Palace Museum. The third distinctive feature of the two latter vases is that they have well-proportioned single flower sprays in the extended band on their shoulders, in contrast to the various scrolls seen on the majority of other Yongle vases of this form. Although single flower sprays and fruiting sprays were among the most attractive of the decorative devices of Yongle blue and white porcelain, they are rare on pear-shaped vases. However both single flower sprays and fruiting sprays can be seen on a Yongle pear-shaped vase in the Shanghai Museum (illustrated by Wang Qing-zheng in Underglaze Blue and Red, Hong Kong, 1987, p. 63, no. 49). Interestingly the Shanghai vase shares with the current vase, and the similar example in the National Palace Museum, a knobbed classic scroll under the rim.
A second Yongle pear-shaped vase in the National Palace Museum (illustrated by Liu Liang-yu in A Survey of Chinese Ceramics 4 Ming Official Wares, Taipei, 1991, p. 55, left-hand image) is identical to a further vase from the Ardebil Shrine in Iran (illustrated by John Pope in Chinese Porcelains from the Ardebil Shrine, op. cit., pl. 53, no. 29.448). These two vases have a petal band around the base of the body, a large-scale mixed floral scroll as the main band, a large, heavily drawn, knobbed scroll on the shoulder, above which is a band of squared spirals, topped by an inverted cloud collar band.
Two blue and white pear-shaped vases excavated from the imperial kilns at Jingdezhen have been published by the Chang Foundation in Imperial Hongwu and Yongle Porcelain excavated at Jingdezhen, Taipei, 1996, pp. 182-5, nos. 60 and 61. Like the current vase, and the similar vase in the National Palace Museum, the two excavated vases have floral scrolls as their major decorative band. One has a band of scrolling hibiscus (no. 61) while the other has a band of scrolling lotus (no. 60). The scrolling lotuses on the excavated vase are smaller than those on the current vase, but the flower heads have been similarly painted. Interestingly, the vase with hibiscus has a much-reduced plantain band in the middle of the neck, below a narrow floral scroll.
It may be argued that the decorative scheme of the current vase, and the one in the National Palace Museum, is the most elegant of the schemes seen on Yongle yuhuchunping. The richly painted blossoms of the lotus scrolls are complemented by the delicate and widely-spaced leafy stems, while the single floral sprays on the shoulder allow a perfect amount of the fine white body to be seen. This elegant scheme is perfectly matched by the brilliance of the cobalt blue used on this vase, which is of the highest quality, and the painting of all the bands, which is accomplished with consummate skill.
THE PROPERTY OF AN ASIAN FAMILY COLLECTION
H. Ling and E. T. Chow, The Complete Collection of Ming Dynasty Kingtehchen Porcelain from The Hall of Disciplined Learning - Collection of E. T. Chow, vol. II, 1950, no. 16
Chang Foundation, Taipei, Chinese Art from the Ching Wan Society Collections, 1998, illustrated in the Catalogue, no. 9