This floral shape originates in the early 15th century; an unmarked tianbai, 'sweet-white' glazed, ten-lobed brush washer excavated from the Yongle stratum, was included in the exhibition, Imperial Hongwu and Yongle Porcelain excavated at Jingdezhen, Chang Foundation, Taipei, 1998, see the Catalogue, p. 262, no. 100. During the early Ming period, brush washers of this form are also found decorated in underglaze blue, such as the 'dragon and phoenix' brush washer sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 1 November 2004, lot 860, dated to the Yongle period. Compare also Xuande-marked blue and white examples, in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, decorated with dragon and phoenix roundels, illustrated in Blue-and-White Ware of the Ming Dynasty, Book II, Part I, Hong Kong, 1963, pl. 23; and one in the Percival David Foundation, now housed at the British Museum, illustrated in Oriental Ceramics, The World's Great Collections, Kodansha Series, 1982, vol. 6, no. 94, designed with a single dragon on the interior.
The present brush washer continued the tradition of the early Ming and was commissioned among a group of similar scholar's objects that were made for the Ming court. Compare with Zhengde-marked white-glazed brush washers of the same shape, see two examples in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, the first included in the Illustrated Catalogue of Ming Dynasty Porcelain, pl. 104, and the second illustrated in Monochrome Ware of the Ming Dynasty, Book II, Hong Kong, 1968, pl. 1; one in the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm, illustrated by J. Wirgin, Chinese Ceramics from the Axel and Nora Lundgren Bequest, pl. 40a, no. 44; the washer previously from the Eumorfopoulos, Cunliffe and T. Y. Chao Collections, sold most recently at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 19 May 1987, lot 251; one from the Ira and Nancy Koger Collection, sold at Sotheby's New York, 27 November 1990, lot 8; and another one from the Greenwald Collection, sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 1 December 2010, lot 2807.
It is interesting to compare the present lot with a dish of this form which is illustrated in the sixth Guwan tu or 'Scroll of Antiquities', dated to the sixth year of the Yongzheng reign (1728). The scroll, which is an illustration of antiquities collected at the imperial palace during the early Qing period, was given by the Empress Dowager to Colonel A. H. Moorhead, I. M. S. The scroll was later sold at Sotheby's London, 19 May 1939, lot 62, and subsequently donated by Lady David to the Percival David Foundation.