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A VERY RARE AND FINELY PAINTED MING BLUE AND WHITE BASIN
A VERY RARE AND FINELY PAINTED MING BLUE AND WHITE BASIN
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A Rare Large Yongle BasinRosemary Scott, International Academic Director Asian ArtThis exceptional Yongle basin belongs to a small group of porcelain vessels decorated in underglaze cobalt blue, which are of a shape inspired by vessels from the Islamic West. In the Yongle reign the porcelain vessels of this form were made in a variety of sizes from those with a mouth diameter of 16.5 cm., to those with a mouth diameter of 34.9 cm. The current basin is one of the larger vessels. Both the form and some aspects of the decoration on these basins reflect the interest evinced by the Chinese elite of the early 15th century in certain wares entering China from the West. The distinctive form of the basin has its origins in both metal and glass vessels produced in the Near East. A 14th century Syrian enamelled glass example in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum, New York, is illustrated by John A. Pope, Chinese Porcelains from the Ardebil Shrine, London, 1981, plate 135, B, while a Syrian/Egyptian brass basin with silver inlay dated to the 14th century in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is illustrated by Feng Xianming in 'Yongle and Xuande Blue-and-White Porcelain in the Palace Museum', Chinese Ceramics Selected articles from Orientations 1982-1998, Hong Kong, 1999, p. 177, fig. 10, where it is shown together with a Yongle blue and white basin in the Palace Museum, Beijing. A further silver-inlaid metalwork example dated to 13th-14th century Egyptian Mamluk period is now in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and was exhibited at the Hayward Gallery and published in The Arts of Islam, Arts Council of Great Britain, London, 1976, p. 189, no. 213. The authors of this exhibition catalogue point out that these basins follow a form that was already known in Syria and Egypt in Ayyubid times (AD 1238-40) and refer to one in the same volume (illustrated ibid., p. 181, no. 198). This earlier version, however, lacks the very slightly waisted, straight sides and the sharp angle to a flattened rim that is characteristic of the later form that inspired the Chinese porcelain basins. A further example in the collection of Nasser Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah is illustrated in Islamic Art in the Kuwait National Museum, The al-Sabah Collection, Marilyn Jenkins (ed.), London, 1983, p. 94. Chinese early 15th century porcelain basins of this type are ornamented with a variety of decorative schemes on the interior, but the exterior is invariably painted with a floral scroll of some kind. Despite the fact that both the Syrian glass example and the Mamluk brass example, mentioned above, both bear decoration in which Arabic calligraphy plays a major role, the Chinese blue and white porcelain versions of this form adopt a very different decorative style. Although the arabesques on the interior base of some of the porcelain basins, and the dianthus on the rim of others, such as the current vessel, have Near Eastern origins, the rest of the decoration appears purely Chinese. Several of these basins, for example, have a band of turbulent waves around the rim, such as two basins – one with a mouth diameter of 16.5 cm. and another with a mouth diameter of 31.6 cm – are in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing (illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum – 34 – Blue and White Porcelain with underglaze Red (I), Hong Kong, 2000, p. 53, no. 50; and Gugong bowuyuan cang – Ming chu qinghua ci, Beijing, 2002, shang ce, pp. 62-3, no. 28, respectively). A similar basin bearing the wave band around the rim is in the collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei, illustrated in Ming dai chunian ciqi tezhen mulu, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1982, p. 110, no. 45. A further example is published by R. Fujioka and G. Hasebe, Sekai toji zenshu - 14 Ming, Tokyo, 1976, p. 166, no. 151, and an example from the Brundage Collection was exhibited in Blue and White - Chinese Porcelain and its Impact on the Western World, Chicago, 1985, no. 28. This distinctive wave band is characteristic of fine imperial wares of the Yongle reign, and appears on a wide range of vessel shapes during this reign period. The inclusion of these Yongle porcelain basins in the Chinese imperial collections, and the fact that none appear in the Ardebil collection, and only one in the collection of the Topkapi Saray in Istanbul (illustrated by J. Ayers & R. Krahl, Chinese Ceramics in the Topkapi Saray Museum Istanbul, vol. II, London, 1986, 516, no. 611, and colour plate on p. 421), suggests that these vessels, despite their foreign form, were in fact intended for elite patrons in China, and not as export wares. Further evidence for this basin form being appreciated by the Chinese court is that it also appears in the Xuande reign, and an example bearing a Xuande reign mark is published in Chinese Ceramics from the Museum Yamato Bunkakan, illustrated catalogue Series no. 7, Nara, 1977, no. 134. It is also significant that this was a form that was copied, with its original decorative schemes in the reigns of the great Qing emperors. A Yongzheng example, for example, is preserved in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing (illustrated in Gugong bowuyuan cang – Ming chu qinghua ci, Beijing, 2002, xia ce, pp. 364-5, no. 196). Judging from published extant examples, it appears that only the larger Yongle basins, like the current vessel, were decorated with a complex dianthus band on the rim. A basin of 30.9 cm. diameter in the collection of the Nanjing Museum, illustrated in Zhongguo Nanjing Bowuyuan suocang, TBS, Tokyo, 1998, p. 34, no. 6; and an even larger one with a diameter of 31.6 cm. in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - 34 - Blue and White Porcelain with Underglaze Red (I), op. cit., p. 52, no. 49, are cases in point. Another large basin with a diameter of 30.8 cm. in the collection of the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco also has this dianthus band (illustrated by He Li in Chinese Ceramics, London, 1996, p. 219, no. 398). A medium-sized basin (diameter 25.6 cm.) in the Tianminlou Collection has a slightly different version of the dianthus band (illustrated in Chinese Porcelain – The S.C. Ko Tianminlou Collection, Hong Kong, 1987, Part I, no. 13), as has another medium-sized (diameter 26.6 cm.) basin in the National Palace Museum, Taipei (illustrated in Porcelain of the National Palace Museum – Blue-and-White Ware of the Ming Dynasty, Book II (Part I), Hong Kong, 1963, pp. 64-5, no 22). The larger basins with dianthus bands, such as the current vessel, differ from the wave-band group in that they do not have arabesques on the interior, but instead have a ring of lotus petals containing auspicious emblems within an encircling key-fret band. The interior sides are embellished with a lotus scroll. The majority of these Yongle basins have a mixed floral scroll decorating their external sides. Such scrolls are well-painted and the flowers are carefully defined. It is notable that the number of flowers comprising these scrolls also appears to have been adjusted to take into account the size of the vessel, in order to obtain the most well-balanced effect. In the case of the current vessel the scroll includes seven different flowers – peony, yellow hibiscus 秋葵, chrysanthemum, camellia, crab-apple, convolvulus (morning glory) and lotus. The current basin displays a particularly successful melding of Chinese design with elements of western inspiration. The form of the current basin does, in fact, provide an ideal shape to display the purity of the Yongle porcelain body, the clarity and painterly application of the cobalt blue, and the artistic ingenuity that combined the elements of its decoration to create a harmonious overall design.
A VERY RARE AND FINELY PAINTED MING BLUE AND WHITE BASIN

YONGLE PERIOD (1403-1424)

Details
A VERY RARE AND FINELY PAINTED MING BLUE AND WHITE BASIN
YONGLE PERIOD (1403-1424)
The interior of the vessel is finely painted in vibrant shades of cobalt blue to depict a large open-form flower, with each petal containing an auspicious emblem. The flower is encircled by a key-fret border, with the interior of the walls decorated with seven stylised lotus blooms supported on leafy scrolls, below a narrow band of floral sprays to the splayed mouth. The exterior is further decorated with seven various flower blooms with leafy scrolls. The base is left unglazed.
12 ¾ in. (32.4 cm.) diam.

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