The underglaze-red decoration on this charger has been well controlled and the design appears in a clear soft red with very little of the red migrating into white areas. Copper-red was, and remains to the present day, difficult to control when used as an underglaze painting medium on porcelain. The charger would have been one of the very few to be successfully fired. At the beginning of the Hongwu reign, despite the difficulties posed in firing them, there was an increased interest in porcelains decorated in underglaze copper-red. Copper-red decoration had developed alongside underglaze-cobalt-blue in the latter part of the Yuan dynasty, and by the late 14th century a range of vessels were being decorated in this technique. Some of the most impressive of these vessels are the large jars and the large dishes.
In the Hongwu reign bracket-lobed rims were once again adopted for these large dishes, and, as can be seen on the current magnificent dish, this lobing was continued into the well of the vessel. The lobing necessitated a different approach to the painted decoration in the well, and so continuous floral scrolls were abandoned in favour of discrete floral sprays. As the current charger shows, this was a very effective device.
This charger also has around its flattened rim a fine example of the more restrained wave band that was adopted in the Hongwu reign to replace the turbulent waves of the Yuan period, and in the centre a well-painted spray of chrysanthemums with flowers and buds emanating from a single point. There are two main variables in these large, lobed, underglaze-red Hongwu dishes, the motif used to decorate the rim, and the choice of floral spray in the centre. The large dish in the collection of the Ceramics Institute at Jingdezhen, for instance, has a wave band on the rim, but in contrast to the current dish, it has a peony spray in the centre, illustrated in Zhongguo wenwu qinghua daquan, Taibei, 1993, p. 367, no. 669. The underglaze-red dish in the Shanghai Museum is decorated with the same arrangement, Shanghai Bowuguan suocang qinghua ciqi zhan, Japan, 1988, p. 29, no. 8, as is the example in the Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka, Masterpieces of Oriental Ceramics - Museum of Oriental Ceramics Osaka, 1994, p. 58, no. 33. The large underglaze-red dish in the Matsuoka Museum also has a peony spray in the centre, but has a lingzhi scroll on the rim in place of the wave band, Masterpieces of Oriental Ceramics From Matsuoka Museum of Art, Aichi Prefectural Ceramic Museum, 1997, p. 24, no. 15. Of the large underglaze-red lobed dishes in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing, two have wave bands around the rim, three have classic scrolls, and one has a lingzhi scroll. All have peony sprays in the central panel, see Blue and White Porcelain with Underglaze Red (I): The Complete Treasures of the Palace Museum, Li Huibing (ed.) Commercial Press, Hong Kong, 2000, pp. 234-240, nos. 216-21. Both the large lobed dishes in the British Museum have lingzhi scrolls around the rim, one has peonies in the centre and the other has a petal roundel surrounded by ruyi and floral sprays (J. Harrison-Hall, Ming Ceramics in the British Museum, British Museum Press, 2001, pp. 89-90, nos. 2:9 and 2:10).
Although chrysanthemum scrolls are a feature of underglaze decoration in the Hongwu reign, as can be seen on bowls in the British Museum (ibid. pp. 90-91, nos. 2:11 and 2:12), they are quite rare as central sprays on large lobed dishes, like the current example. The chrysanthemums on this dish are painted in a style characteristic of the Hongwu reign with a white ring around the stamens, encircled by a ring of white petals. Similar flowers can be seen on two blue and white bowls excavated from the Hongwu stratum at Zhushan, Jingdezhen in 1994 (Imperial Hongwu and Yongle Porcelain excavated at Jingdezhen, Chang Foundation, Taipei, 1996, pp. 76-79, nos. 5 and 6, as well as in the centre of two underglaze-red decorated bowls from the same excavation (ibid. pp. 80-81 and 85-85, nos. 7 and 9). A spray of chrysanthemums, with a similar arrangement of four open blossoms to that on the current dish, appears in the centre of a large unlobed blue and white dish excavated from the site of the Hongwu imperial kiln in 1994 (ibid. p. 120, no. 28). A chrysanthemum spray can also be seen in the centre of a Hongwu lobed dish with waves around the rim, decorated in underglaze-blue from the court collection in the Palace Museum, Beijing (Blue and White Porcelain with Underglaze Red (I): The Complete Treasures of the Palace Museum, Li Huibing (ed.) Commercial Press, Hong Kong, 2000, p. 23, no. 21). An unlobed copper-red dish decorated with chrysanthemum sprays was sold in Hong Kong, 17 May 1988, lot 14.