Only three other fishbowls of the Wanli period with this design appear to be extant and all are in museum collections. The most widely published example is a slightly smaller (44.2 cm. diam.) fish bowl from the Idemitsu Collection, illustrated in the exhibition catalogue, In Pursuit of the Dragon, Seattle Art Museum, 1988, p. 133, no. 66. Another, larger (58.5 cm. diam.), Wanli-marked example in the Victoria and Albert Museum, is illustrated by S. Jenyns, Ming Pottery and Porcelain, London, 1953, pl. 101. A third example (46.5 cm. diam.) is illustrated in Mayuyama, Seventy Years, vol. 2, Tokyo, 1976, p. 317, no. 950.
The prototype for the current 'duck and lotus' pattern can be seen on an iron-red, green and yellow-enameled large bowl attributed to the Jiajing reign bequeathed by Mrs. Walter Sedgewick to the British Museum and illustrated by. J. Harrison-Hall in Ming Ceramics in the British Museum, London, 2001, no. 9:101. A Jiajing doucai dish with the 'ducks and lotus' pattern in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, is illustrated in Enamelled Ware of the Ming Dynasty, Book II, Hong Kong, 1966, pl.18. A similar Jiajing-marked dish with an adaptation of the same pattern, but in wucai rather than doucai enamels in the Idemitsu Collection is illustrated in In Pursuit of the Dragon, op. cit., p. 112, no. 49.
Wucai fish bowls of this design can also be found in the preceding Longqing reign and a number of Longqing-marked examples are published, although they are stylistically very different from the Wanli bowls. There are the examples in the collection of the Percival David Foundation illustrated by R. Scott, Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art - A Guide to the Collection, London, 1989, p. 86, no. 80; in the Umezawa Collection illustrated in Mayuyama, Seventy Years, vol. 2, Tokyo, 1976, p. 292, no. 877; in the Hatakeyama Kinenkan Museum, Tokyo, illustrated by R. Fujioka and G. Hasebe in Sekai Toji Zenshu - 14 - Ming, Tokyo, 1976, p. 201, pl. 202; and an example illustrated by Geng Baochang in Ming Qing Ciqi Jianding, Hong Kong, 1993, p. 500, pl. 69.
The pattern is also found on other forms during the Wanli period. A Wanli-marked wucai garlic-head vase also decorated with ducks in a lotus pond, in the Palace Museum Collection, Beijing, is illustrated in The Complete Treasures of the Palace Museum - 38 - Porcelains in Polychrome and Contrasting Colours, Hong Kong, 1999, p. 30, no. 27.
The depiction of ducks in a lotus pond as a decorative motif on ceramics has its origins in the Tang dynasty and gained particular popularity in the Yuan dynasty on blue and white dishes and vases. The popularity of the motif continued throughout the Ming and Qing dynasties and featured prominently on ceramics from the Xuande and Chenghua periods, the late Ming period and the latter half of the Qing dynasty. The pair of ducks is associated with fidelity and harmony. In Designs as Signs: Decoration and Chinese Ceramics, Percival David Foundation, London, 2001, Stacey Pierson explains that pairs of mandarin ducks, yuan yang, represent marital fidelity or harmony as theye are said to mate for life. In association with lotus, homophonous with the word for harmony (he), they can represent a wish for sons.