The shape of the present jar and cover appear to be based on porcelain cricket jars of the early to middle Ming dynasty. Several excavated Xuande period examples of cricket jars of similar barrel form are published. See S. Liang, Yuan's and Ming's Imperial Porcelains Unearthed from Jingdezhen, Beijing, 1999, pp. 203-10, nos. 172-187. While on the excavated examples the covers fit into recessed wells in the jars, variations on this type do exist, as evidenced by the Xuande mark and period example in the Toguri Museum of Art (Fig. 1) painted with a mythical winged beast in a landscape. On the Toguri Museum example (9.6 cm. high, 13.8 cm. diam.) formerly in the collection of Baron Okura, illustrated by Fujio Koyama, Toki Zenshu, Vol. 11: Gen Min sho no Sometsuke, Tokyo, 1960, no. 53, the cover fits flush with the lip of the jar in the manner seen on the present lot. The construction of the Toguri example is also quite similar to the current jar, as both are raised on thick foot rims and are of slightly convex form. The covers of the two differ only in that the porcelain example has a recessed well which bears the reign mark (Fig. 2).
The subject matter of dragons or mythical beasts amidst crashing waves appears to be quite popular on porcelains of the 15th-16th centuries, and particularly on Xuande period wares of this specific design, the dragons are frequently depicted with wings and without rear legs, and often have long, curled snouts and bifurcated tails similar to those on the present lot. See Imperial Porcelain of the Yongle and Xuande Period Excavated from the Site of the Ming Imperial Factory at Jingdezhen, Hong Kong, 1989, pp. 266-7 for a basin painted with a winged dragon amidst crashing waves and clouds. Also compare three Xuande mark and period porcelain stem cups with related designs of winged dragons, elephants and sea creatures amidst waves, in the collection of the National Palace Museum, illustrated in Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of Selected Hsüan-te Imperial Porcelains of the Ming Dynasty , Taipei, 1998, pp. 202-3, 210-1 and 222-3, nos. 74, 78 and 84, respectively. Also illustrated ibid., pp. 330-1, no. 138, is a blue and white Xuande mark and period porcelain bowl with winged dragons and sea creatures amidst waves. While the wings on the dragons found on the Hochstadter jar are unusually far down the body, a similar feature can be seen on a li long found on a Chenghua mark and period bowl, illustrated by M. Lu, Porcelain Wares form the Official Kilns of the Ming Dynasty, Shanghai, 2007, p. 138, no. 3-60. Small stubs, possibly representing wings, can be seen above the tail, in a similar position to the wings of the dragons on the Hochstadter jar.
The billowy, rounded clouds, with thickly carved scrolling centers, also closely relate to those seen on early to middle Ming lacquer ware. Compare a Xuande mark and period box illustrated in Catalogue of a Special Exhibition of Lacquerware in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1981, no. 17. Also note the closely related calligraphy seen in the mark, which is placed in similar fashion beside the foot rim. Compare, also, another Xuande period box in the collection of the Linden-Museum, Stuttgart, illustrated in Im Zeichen des Drachen, 2007, pp. 114-5, no. 43.
Also see an unusual 15th century lacquer box in the collection of the Royal Ontario Museum, included in the exhibition Homage to Heaven, Homage to Earth, Toronto, 1992, pp. 206-7. It is important to note that both the illustrated box and the present lot are crafted in a similar manner. Red lacquer has been applied over a buff-yellow ground, and a darker layer of lacquer has been inserted towards the bottom of the red layers to signal a 'warning' to the carver that he was approaching the core. Although the Royal Ontario Musuem box bears a Yongle mark, the author notes that Yongle and Xuande marks were often added later by court officials who attempted to attribute, often correctly, the works to a particular period.
The results of a radio-carbon analysis are consistent with the dating of this lot. A full scientific examination report is available upon request.