A VERY RARE BLUE AND WHITE 'KORANIC-VERSE' QUATREFOIL BOX AND COVER
A VERY RARE BLUE AND WHITE 'KORANIC-VERSE' QUATREFOIL BOX AND COVER
A VERY RARE BLUE AND WHITE 'KORANIC-VERSE' QUATREFOIL BOX AND COVER
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THE PROPERTY OF A GENTLEMAN
A VERY RARE BLUE AND WHITE 'KORANIC-VERSE' QUATREFOIL BOX AND COVER

ZHENGDE SIX-CHARACTER MARK IN UNDERGLAZE BLUE WITHIN A DOUBLE CIRCLE AND OF THE PERIOD (1506-1521)

Details
A VERY RARE BLUE AND WHITE 'KORANIC-VERSE' QUATREFOIL BOX AND COVER
ZHENGDE SIX-CHARACTER MARK IN UNDERGLAZE BLUE WITHIN A DOUBLE CIRCLE AND OF THE PERIOD (1506-1521)
The cover is painted to the top with a square cartouche enclosing a rhombus inscribed inside with an Arabic or Persian script denoting one of the 99 names of Allah, encircled by four detached ruyi-scrolls; the sides with a band of separate ruyi clouds. The box is decorated to the sides with a row of bosses, above the stepped base decorated with a ruyi-scroll.
4 1⁄4 in. (10.8 cm.) diam., box
Provenance
A Japanese private collection
The Ronald W. Longsdorf Collection
Sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 30 November 2016, lot 3393

Brought to you by

Marco Almeida (安偉達)
Marco Almeida (安偉達) SVP, Senior International Specialist, Head of Department

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Lot Essay

Boxes of this type are very rare, with only a few known in international collections. Indeed, only one other box of this lobed form appears to be known. A box of the same shape, and with identical treatment of the sides of the lid and base, as well as the top of the lid, is in the collection of the National Museum of China (illustrated in Studies of the Collections of the National Museum of China, Ming Porcelain, Shanghai, 2007, pl. 64) (fig. 1). The majority of the inscriptions in Arabic are religious or philosophical in content and many of these are quotations from the Qur’an, like that on the table screen in the collection of Sir Percival David, the inscription on which comes from Surat al Jinn (LXXII) (illustrated by R. Scott in Elegant Form and Harmonious Decoration – Four Dynasties of Jingdezhen Porcelain, London, 1992, p. 70, no. 68). The inscription on the current box gives one of the 99 names of Allah. A number of other inscriptions are secular and either indicate use, such as ‘pen rest’, or are mottoes, such as ‘Strive for excellence in penmanship, for it is one of the keys of livelihood.’ The secular inscriptions may be in either Arabic or Persian, but are mostly composed in the latter.

Like the other inscribed Zhengde porcelains, the current box bears a well-written six-character mark. A number of other Zhengde porcelains bear four-character marks, especially those with a design of five-clawed dragons and lotus scrolls. The painting of this latter design is often less defined, and is frequently executed in a somewhat dull blue, compared to the blue used on inscribed pieces bearing a six-character mark. The AD 1515 Ruizhou fuzhi ???? (Annals of Ruizhou Prefecture) of Jiangxi province notes: ‘At Tianzi Hill in Shanggao County there is a nameless stone which is used at Jingdezhen as a painting medium on porcelain.’ (see R. Scott and R. Kerr, Ceramic Evolution in the Middle Ming Period, London, 1994, p. 7). It seems likely that this Chinese cobalt was used for the Zhengde dragon and lotus porcelains with four-character marks. The cobalt used on the Zhengde porcelains with six-character marks and Arabic or Persian inscriptions, such as the current box, tends to be clearer and more vibrant, and was probably imported cobalt. In AD 1591 Huang Yizheng noted in ???? Shiwu ganzhu (Record of Various Things) that: ‘Mohammedan blue pigment comes from other countries. During the Zhengde period a senior eunuch administered and guarded Yunnan and dishonestly obtained and refined the stone. In the beginning its price was double that of gold. It is known that it can be used in the manufacture of porcelain and its actual use is quite satisfactory.’ (see ibid.) It is likely that many of the porcelains bearing Arabic and Persian inscriptions, which tend to be items which could be employed on a writing table, were made for powerful Muslim eunuch officials at the court, who would have been able to use their influence to ensure that porcelains made for them were decorated using the superior imported cobalt.

The decoration on the current box is characteristic of the porcelains bearing Arabic or Persian inscriptions, although boxes are rare. It is interesting to note that the neatly painted scrolls which surround the square panel on the top of the lid of the current box are of identical form to those which surround the square inscription panel on the David table screen, mentioned above. The treatment of the foot of the box with carefully conceived scrolls is also typical of fine Zhengde wares, since it is painted in such a way as to suggest that the box stands on feet, rather than a solid base – thereby lightening the visual impression of a stable object with a low centre of gravity. This treatment of a solid base can be seen on many inscribed scholar’s objects in this period, including a pen box with cover, and an ink slab and cover in the British Museum (see J. Harrison-Hall, Ming Ceramics in the British Museum, London, 2000, pp. 194-195, nos. 8:5 and 8:6).

The combination of the bold dots on the sides of the base of the box, and the larger bean-shaped elements on the sides of the lid is effective and not unexpected. The same combination of elements can be seen around the neck of a Zhengde tripod censer formerly in the Eumorfopoulos Collection, and illustrated by R.L. Hobson in The Eumorfopoulos Collction, London, 1925-28, D. 20. Similar bold dots can also be seen on the legs of a Zhengde saucer for a holy water bowl in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing (illustrated in Underglaze Blue and White Porcelain with Underglaze Red (II), The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Hong Kong, 2000, p. 86, no. 80). The scroll elements on the collar just above the legs of the saucer form an outline of the same shape as the bean-shaped motifs on the current box.

The fact that this Zhengde box is lobed adds to its rarity, and the quality of the porcelain, the cobalt blue and the painting all suggest that it may have been made specifically for one of the powerful Muslim court eunuchs, although the emperor himself was also drawn towards foreign scripts and an eastern Turkish merchant who visited China in the early 16th century suggested that the emperor may have converted to Islam. This, however, is not confirmed by any Chinese sources.

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