The unusual decoration on the present bowl is associated with the Dengjie or Lantern Festival, which is the last event of the extended Chinese New Year festivities taking place on the fifteenth day of the first month of the lunar calendar, and its main purpose is to pray for good health and prosperity. The major source of prosperity in 16th and 17th Century China was a good harvest, and so the iconography of the clothes, porcelains and accoutrements for the festival reinforced that theme.
A Wanli wucai dish bearing a similar decoration was given by Sir Percival David to the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1917, illustrated by R. Scott and R. Kerr, Ceramic Evolution in the Middle Ming Period, Percival David Foundation, London, 1994, p. 22, no. 24.
A similar dish was sold in our London Rooms, 12 July 2005, lot 158.