This jar is a classic example of the vibrant fahua-decorated vessels made at Jingdezhen in the mid-Ming period. The technique of using raised slip lines to produce cloisons, in which differently coloured, low-firing, glazes could be applied was one that may have originated at the kilns making architectural ceramics in north China. These northern fahua-decorated wares would, however, have been stonewares. The finer examples produced at Jingdezhen were made of high-firing porcelain. No jars have yet been found bearing imperial reign marks, but dishes with fahua decoration have been excavated from both the early Xuande and mid-Chenghua strata at the imperial kiln site: the first, included in the exhibition, Xuande Imperial Porcelain excavated at Jingdezhen, Chang Foundation, Taipei, 1998, p. 78, no. 73; and the other bearing an underglaze-blue reign mark included in the exhibition, A Legacy of Chenghua, Tsui Museum of Art, Hong Kong, 1993, p. 148, no. B30. In 1972 a Chenghua fahua jar with cobalt blue ground and a design of the Eight Daoist Immortals was excavated from a site in Beijing. This jar is now preserved in the Capital Museum, Beijing and is illustrated in Shoudu bowuguan zang ci xuan, Beijing, 1991, p. 121, pl. 109. Jingdezhen fahua seems particularly to have flourished in the period from the Chenghua reign (1465-87) to the Jiajing reign (1522-66). It is to the middle of this period, the Hongzhi (1488-1505) or Zhengde (1506-21) reign, that the current jar may be dated.
Dating to the Hongzhi reign is suggested by the close similarity between the decoration on the current fahua jar and that on a blue and white jar excavated in the suburbs of Beijing in 1966, and now in the collection of the Capital Museum. This blue and white Hongzhi lidded jar is illustrated in Shoudu bowuguan zang ci xuan, op. cit., p. 123, no. 112. It shares with the fahua jar similar treatment of the band around its foot, similar clouds around the neck, similar approach to the filler motifs in the cloud collar, and a similar theme in the main decorative band, depicting a scholar and crane in a garden in front of a terraced building.
The smaller and more detailed the individual decorative elements within a design, the more time-consuming and difficult it was to produce. This is generally true, but is particularly relevant to fahua-decorated porcelains. Thus fahua vessels, like the current jar, which are decorated with detailed designs of figures and architectural structures, would have been more time-consuming to make than those vessels decorated with large-scale simplified floral motifs. The current jar is especially finely decorated. Both the figures and the architectural elements are skilfully drawn and the tiling on the terrace and lattice in the architectural panels are unusually detailed for fahua design.
The minor design elements on this jar are almost identical with those on another fahua jar of exactly the same height discovered in 1960 and now in the Shaanxi Provincial Museum, illustrated in Zhongguo wenwu jinghua daquan - Taoci juan, Taibei, 1993, p. 412, no. 834. The form of the cloud collars, as well as the flower and ribbon decoration that fills each cloud panel, are identical on both jars. The form and decorative elements of the petal band around the foot of each is also identical. The only difference between the two is in the choice of coloured glaze to fill each section. For example, the colour of the outline of the cloud collar on the current jar is blue, whereas it is white on the Shaanxi jar. Both jars also make use of very similar cloud forms to frame the scenes, both with distinctive curling white tips. The main decoration on both jars depicts figures in landscape with architectural elements, but the with different themes. It seems very likely that the current jar and the one in the Shaanxi Provincial Museum were made at approximately the same time in the same workshop.
The current jar was probably intended for a gentleman-scholar. On one side of the jar a gentleman is shown accompanied by a stork and followed by a servant carrying a qin. The gentleman would have been intended to represent one of the Four Worthies, the poet recluse Lin Bu (also known as Lin Hejing). Lin Bu (AD 967-1028) is believed to have retired from official duties and gone to live the life of a recluse on the shores of West Lake in Hangzhou. For twenty years he staunchly refused to take up office or to enter the city, preferring to tend his plum trees and compose poetry. His pet cranes would warn him of the approach of any unwanted visitors.
Compare other similar jars with scenes of scholars and immortals, the first in the British Museum, illustrated by J. Harrison-Hall, Ming Ceramics, 2001, p. 419, no. 13:21; the jar in the Gotoh Art Museum, Japan, illustrated in Mayuyama, Seventy Years, vol. 1, Tokyo, 1976, no. 814; and another from the Jingguantang Collection, sold in our New York Rooms, 20 March 1997, lot 78.