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A FINE AND RARE LARGE JUNYAO BOWL
A FINE AND RARE LARGE JUNYAO BOWL
A FINE AND RARE LARGE JUNYAO BOWL
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INSPIRED CONNOISSEURSHIP: CHINESE CERAMICS FROM A PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION ROSEMARY SCOTT INTERNATIONAL ACADEMIC DIRECTOR ASIAN ART One of the striking aspects of this collection is the fine aesthetic judgement shown by the collector. Amassing this group of ceramics over a period of some thirty years, he has consistently chosen pieces that display a harmonious combination of elegant form, beautiful colours, and skilful decoration. The main concentration of the collection is on imperial porcelains of the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, but even the small number of Song dynasty (960-1279) ceramics (Lots 3501 and 3502) fulfil the criteria of taste applied to the later wares. Among the early Ming imperial porcelains in this collection, the vessels display features which characterise the finest porcelains of their respective reign periods. A luminous tianbai stembowl from the Yongle reign (1403-24) (Lot 3504) reflects the refined aesthetic of the emperor. This vessel has the beautifully balanced profile characteristic of the early 15th century, and is covered in the soft lustrous white glaze, which is called tianbai or 'sweet white' in Chinese. This glaze, developed in the Yongle reign appears to have been a particular favourite of the emperor, and more than ninety percent of the porcelains from this period, which were found at the site of the imperial kilns, were white wares, reflecting the aesthetic preference of the Yongle emperor, who demonstrated a special appreciation of plain white items, such as white jades. It is also a reflection of his adherence to Lamaist Buddhism. The anhua, or 'secret decoration' around the sides of this stembowl depicts the Eight Buddhist Emblems. The finely potted Xuande conical bowl decorated with cobalt blue floral scrolls (Lot 3505) displays all the artistic mastery of a period in which the reigning emperor was a passionate patron of the arts. This superb bowl is a classic example of the fine blue and white porcelains made during the reign of the Xuande emperor. It is especially the blue and white porcelains of this reign period that have been considered by generations of connoisseurs to be masterpieces of the potters' art, for the quality of their potting, the brilliant colour of the blue, and for the vitality of the painting. While most later blue and white painting is done using a fine brush to paint outlines and a wide brush to apply washes of colour within them, Xuande porcelains, like this bowl, have very few outlines and are painted with a medium width brush, giving the designs a spontaneity and fluency, which can be particularly appreciated in the painting of the floral scrolls on this vessel. While all of the three great imperial patrons of the Qing dynasty - the Kangxi (1662-1722) (Lot 3514), Yongzheng (1723-35) (Lot 3516), and Qianlong (1736-95) (Lot 3541) Emperors - are represented in this collection, it is the porcelains made for the Yongzheng emperor which dominate. The collector seems to have been particularly drawn to the ceramics of this relatively short reign period, which produced porcelains which are regarded as the high-point of Qing dynasty imperial production - combining technical excellence with great artistic refinement. The eminent Chinese art historian Yang Boda has said of the porcelains produced the Yongzheng reign: 'The porcelain of this period has a pristine purity, and jade-like luminosity, and the painted design gives the piece a luxuriance reminiscent of brocade. Nianyao [the porcelains made when Nian Xiyao was Superintendent of Ceramic Production, 1726-35] epitomize the classic refined style of Qing imperial ware, and they are rated by commentators as the best among the imperial wares of the entire Qing dynasty.' (See Yang Boda, 'Introduction' in The Tsui Museum of Art - Chinese Ceramics IV - Qing Dyansty, Hong Kong, 1995, p. 40. The qualities of fine porcelain of the Yongzheng reign, which are so well represented in this collection, reflect the tastes and personality of the emperor for whom they were made. Yongzheng's commitment to art and the style he appreciated are reflected in his own calligraphy. Before he came to the throne he used to spend hours each day copying the calligraphy of model books, and came to be regarded as a talented calligrapher in his own right, with slender characters rendered in strong, fluent brushstrokes. Under his successor's reign, the Yongzheng emperor's calligraphy was printed in model books to serve as inspiration for aspiring calligraphers, indeed he is generally regarded as the best calligrapher among the Qing monarchs. The Yongzheng emperor was a passionate collector of art and antiquities, and, not surprisingly, encouraged court painting, and the decorative arts and took a keen and active interest in the arts made for his palaces. Records indicate that while he was a prince, Yinzhen spent most of his time studying and decorating his palaces, when he wasn't travelling with his father. The craftsmen in the imperial workshops were often commanded to make items for Yinzhen's palaces. When he became emperor he was very strict and did not allow items made outside the palace to be used in his inner palaces. Indeed some of the items commissioned for his palaces were made to his own designs. This artistic side of his nature is undoubtedly responsible for the fact that during his reign the imperial ateliers produced some of their finest work. He was particularly interested in the production of imperial porcelain, and was aided in this by two men of outstanding ability who held the post of Superintendent of Ceramic Production at the Imperial Kilns - Nian Xiyao (1671-1738) and Tang Ying (1682-1756). The collector of the porcelains in this sale has demonstrated a particular appreciation of Yongzheng monochromes and doucai wares, which represent two of the areas of greatest achievement in porcelains of the reign. At the behest of the emperor, a great deal of research and development was undertaken under the kiln superintendents Nian Xiyao and Tang Ying, and this included the development of a huge range of new monochrome colours, as well as enamels. It is probable that many of the new colours were developed under the auspices of the most famous of all the superintendents of the Imperial kilns - Tang Ying. In the first year of Yongzheng Tang Ying was appointed Vice-Director of the Imperial Household Department at court before being sent to Jingdezhen in 1726, initially working as assistant to Nian Xiyao, but soon assuming complete responsibility for production at the Imperial kilns. Tang Ying became a knowledgeable ceramicist in his own right, and also had literary talent. His surviving writings provide much useful information about production at Jingdezhen. In 1735 Tang wrote Taocheng jishi bei (Memorial on ceramics inscribed on a stele). This lists no less than fifty-seven different types of glaze. While some of these would have been inherited from the Ming dynasty, and others were initiated during Kangxi's reign, it is clear that a significant number were developed as a response to the Yongzheng Emperor's desire for new colours. Yellow glazes had risen to prominence on imperial porcelains during the early Ming dynasty, but during the Yongzheng reign the warm-toned yellow, coloured with small amounts of iron, was refined to give a more even and flawless appearance, while a new low-firing, opaque, citrus yellow enamel was developed, which was coloured using lead antimonate (lead and antimony) (Lot 3517). The copper red 'sacrificial red' or 'fresh red' glazes of the early Ming had been greatly valued by connoisseurs, and in the Kangxi reign experimentation at the imperial kilns had produced the famous 'Langyao' copper red glaze. In the Yongzheng reign another new version of the copper red glaze was developed, which had a richness and an even depth of colour, which particularly complemented beautifully-balanced forms such as the lovely stembowl in the current collection (Lot 3515). This collection includes Yongzheng porcelains with beautiful pale celadon glazes (Lots 3518 and 3530). A delicate celadon green glaze on a porcelain body had been developed in the Kangxi reign, but was further modified in the Yongzheng period to produce an even more finely textured and slightly bluer pale celadon glaze, like that seen on the exquisite bowl in the collection (Lot 3530). These celadons and the others created with minute variations on tone and texture have been much admired by Chinese connoisseurs and those of the Yongzheng reign have been given names such as dongqing (winter green) and fenqing (soft green). Falling into the same aesthetic group as the delicate pale celadons, are the pale blue-glazed porcelains of the Yongzheng reign (Lot 3516), including the much admired clair de lune glaze (Lot 3520). These glazes have a number of properties in common with the pale celadons, but while the latter are coloured with very small quantities of iron, the pale blue glazes contain very small quantities of cobalt. One group of dishes exemplify the Yongzheng Emperor's fascination with monochrome glazes and delicate forms. Palace records for the 27th day of the 12th month of the 11th year of Yongzheng's reign (1733) note an order from the emperor to Nian Xiyao. The emperor's order required Nian Xiyan 'to send 12 chrysanthemum-shaped dishes in different colours for the inspection of the permanent guardian of the treasury and chief eunuch Samuha'. The decree goes on to mention 'forty dishes in each colour to be fired in accordance with the samples'. Interestingly more than 12 colours in this form are known, which suggests experimentation with different glazes. Chrysanthemum-shaped dishes with slender petals were made in both the Yongzheng and the Qianlong reigns, but those made for the Yongzheng Emperor have petals with slightly more pointed ends, adding to the delicacy of the form. The admiration for this flower in China has a very long history, and chrysanthemums are even mentioned in early classical Chinese literature, such as the Zhou Dynasty (1027-476 BC) Book of Odes. Chrysanthemums are one of the 'flowers of the four seasons' in China, representing autumn, while along with lotus, orchid and bamboo, they are regarded as one of the 'four gentlemen of flowers', and are symbols of longevity and wealth. The reason they are associated with longevity is because in Chinese the word for chrysanthemum sounds similar to a word meaning 'long enduring', and also because infusions made from their petals have medicinal properties. This collection includes two of these Yongzheng chrysanthemum dishes: one with a rich cafe au lait glaze (Lot 3533), and one with a rare opaque turquoise glaze (Lot 3534). Turquoise glazes were applied relatively rarely to the imperial porcelains at Jingdezhen during the Ming dynasty, but gained popularity in the Qing dynasty Kangxi reign. Under the Yongzheng Emperor, however, a new version of the turquoise glaze was developed. While the main colorant for all turquoise glazes is copper, lead arsenate was added to create the beautiful opaque pale turquoise monochrome glaze seen on the current chrysanthemum dish. Another highlight of Yongzheng imperial porcelains, that is well represented in the collection, is doucai ware. The technique of doucai decoration required that the design was painted with underglaze blue outlines, which were later filled using overglaze coloured enamels. This type of decoration flourished in the Chenghua reign (1465-87), but, due to the difficulties associated with its production, was largely replaced by other, less taxing, techniques in later periods. It returned to imperial favour in the Yongzheng reign, and a new style was developed, which was much more delicate, and had a much more varied, but restrained, use of colour than its predecessors. It is interesting that the collection includes a pair of small Yongzheng doucai bowls, the design of which precisely mirrors that of Chenghua bowls (Lot 3523). The other Yongzheng doucai porcelains in the collection are decorated with designs that are more closely associated with the Qing dynasty. A pair of bowls with bats and clouds (Lot 3525), are early examples of a design that was to increase in popularity throughout the 18th century, and continue to find favour in later reign periods, although these Yongzheng doucai bowls display the most delicate and refined version of the motif. The reason for the latter's popularity is not just its visual attractiveness, but its auspicious meaning. While the red bats indicate vast happiness, the word for cloud yun, sounds like the word for luck yun while coloured or rosy clouds cai yun includes another reference that can also mean lucky - as in to win a prize. Thus the bats and coloured clouds signify vast happiness and immense good luck. The exquisite 'narcissus' dish in the collection (Lot 3526) is exceptional, even amongst these refined vessels. The decoration on this dish is not only beautiful, it was also chosen to convey an auspicious meaning suitable for a birthday. Both the interior and the exterior are decorated with narcissus, nandina, lingzhi fungus, with ornamental rocks. Narcissus is associated in China with good fortune and prosperity, and is often displayed at the New Year. However its Chinese name translates as 'water immortal flower', and in this design combines with the lingzhi fungus to suggest the 'fungus immortal'. The name of the nandina plant and the phrase for rocks in Chinese combine with the narcissus and lingzhi, to provide a rebus for either 'May the fungus immortal congratulate you on your birthday' or 'May the fungus immortal bestow long life upon you'. Although the collector has not been drawn to many porcelains decorated solely in enamels - generally preferring those combining enamels with underglaze blue decoration - the exceptions in his collection adhere to his refined aesthetic. The pair of Yongzheng yuzhi bowls with deep red grounds are exceedingly rare (Lot 3531). Instead of the normal six-character Yongzheng mark reading Da Qing Yong zheng nian zhi 'made in the Yongzheng reign of the great Qing dynasty', their marks contain four characters and read Yong zheng yu zhi 'made by imperial command of the Yongzheng Emperor'. It is also notable that while the majority of Yongzheng reign marks are written inside a double circle, unless they are seal marks, these marks are written inside double squares. This is a consciously archaistic device referring to the fine doucai porcelains of the Chenghua reign (1465-87). These yuzhi vessels with coloured enamel grounds began to be made in the reign of the Kangxi Emperor, who originally set up workshops in the palace to produce items in which he had a special interest. The yuzhi bowls of the Yongzheng reign tend to be decorated in slightly more subtle colours than those of the Kangxi reign, as can be seen on the pair of Yongzheng bowls in this collection which have bold floral scrolls in soft pale yellow and blue set against a deep wine-coloured ground. This collection has been amassed with great care and clearly represents the personal taste of the collector. In his preference for exquisitely made pieces in beautiful shapes and colours, with delicately painted decoration, he has adopted the same criteria as the Yongzheng Emperor himself, and in doing so has demonstrated inspired connoisseurship.
A FINE AND RARE LARGE JUNYAO BOWL

SONG-JIN DYNASTY, 12TH-13TH CENTURY

Details
A FINE AND RARE LARGE JUNYAO BOWL
SONG-JIN DYNASTY, 12TH-13TH CENTURY
With rounded sides covered inside and out with a milky blue glaze thinning to a mushroom tone at the rim, the foot rim unglazed
8 5/8 in. (22 cm.) diam., box
Provenance
Eskenazi, London, no. C1306
Sale Room Notice
Please note that this lot has a restored chip to the foot as viewed.

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Lot Essay

This well-proportioned bowl with its thick, lavender-blue glaze typifies the elegant simplicity of Junyao wares. Control of both temperature and duration of firing was crucial to both the colour and texture of Junyao glazes, and had to be finely judged by the kiln master.

A bowl of similar shape and size is illustrated by R. Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, vol. III, London, 2006, p. 460, no. 1461. Other similar bowls include one from the Anthony R. Derham Collection, sold at Christie's New York, 26 March 2010, lot 1333; and another sold at Christie's New York, 25 March 2011, lot 1323.

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