Underglaze-blue chargers of such substantial size are very rare and were probably made to specific commissions. The successful firing of vessels of such massive size is a testimony to the skills of the potters at Jingdezhen.
Another rare example of a massive charger (measuring 65.5 cm. diam.), decorated with Sanskrit text in the medallion surrounded by foliate scrolls, is in the Topkapi Saray Museum, illustrated by R. Krahl, Chinese Ceramics in the Topkapi Saray Museum, Istanbul, Yuan and Ming Dynasty Porcelains, vol. II, London, 1986, no. 640. It is possible to conclude that large dishes, perhaps few produced of such massive size, were predominantly exported to the Middle East where communal eating from a central dish was common in comparison to the Chinese tradition of using a series of smaller vessels. Evidence of Chinese eating habits is supported by a number of Chinese paintings such as the well-known hanging scroll, A Literary Gathering, now in the National Palace Museum, Taibei, attributed to the Northern Song emperor Huizong (A.D. 960-1279), which depicts an array of small dishes neatly arranged on the banquet table. For an illustration of the painting and a discussion by R. Whitfield on 'Ceramics in Chinese Painting', see Imperial Taste. Chinese Ceramics From the Percival David Foundation, R. Scott (ed.), London, 1989, fig. 4, pp. 125-132.
The composition of the 'bird on a branch' theme on the medallion, probably an influence from Song dynasty album fan paintings, is well executed to provide a visually balanced image. For comparable fan paintings of this genre, cf. a fan painting from the Stephen Junkunc III Collection, depicting a pair of magpies on a pipa branch, sold in our New York Rooms, 24 March 1998, lot 13; and another of a bird with its body arched towards a bunch of pipa, illustrated in Song Ren Hua Ce, A Record of Paintings from the Song Dynasty, no. 24.
The painting format also appears on a smaller foliate-rim dish (50.3 cm. diam.) from the Ataka Collection, Osaka, illustrated in Ceramic Art of the World, vol. 14, Ming Dynasty, Shogakukan, Tokyo, 1976, no. 10, p. 17. The bird on the Ataka dish is depicted balancing on a fruiting branch with its beak aimed purposely towards the bunches of fruit, it shares the same fluidity of movement as the long-tail bird on the medallion of the present charger.
Compare also a related barbed-rim dish (55 cm. diam.) with two birds on a flowering branch illustrated by R. Krahl, Chinese Ceramics in the Topkapi Saray Museum, vol. II, ibid., no. 595, p. 414. Fruiting branches appear to have been a popular choice for decorating the central medallion of large dishes, cf. an example with lychees included in the exhibition, Jingdezhen Chutu Yuan Ming Guanyao Ciqi, Yuan and Ming Imperial Porcelain Excavated at Jingdezhen, Yan Huang Art Museum, Beijing, illustrated in the Catalogue, 1999, no. 67. Other dishes include peaches, grapes and melons, cf. ibid, nos. 68, 69 and 70 respectively.