Vases such as the present example are celebrated for their vivid underglaze-blue painting depicting dramatic mountain landscapes. This style of decoration developed from the 1630s, when the collapse of the Ming dynasty freed the potters of Jingdezhen from imperial influence, and production was instead designed to appeal to the literati class.
One of the foremost developments of this new ‘literati’ style was the continuous landscape in a restricted palette, designed in direct imitation of classical scroll painting. The mountain landscape had long enjoyed particular significance as a religious symbol, and in the mid-seventeenth century, the mountain also held cultural resonance for the scholar-official, representing an ideal retreat to a peaceful sanctuary away from political turmoil and any unwelcome call to official duties from a new and foreign power.
The success of this innovative style is clear from its continuation into the Kangxi period, when the freshness of the design was complemented by impeccable technique. As Stephen Little notes: "The artistic freedom enjoyed by ceramic decorators at Jingdezhen in these relatively unsettled economic conditions gave way to unsurpassed technical skill once imperial control was re-established at the kilns in 1683, during the early Kangxi reign" (see Julia B. Curtis, Chinese Porcelains of the Seventeenth Century: Landscapes, Scholars’ Motifs and Narratives, New York, 1995, p. 40).
A blue and white vase, of baluster form, but also decorated with fishermen on rafts, and with peony sprays on the neck, is illustrated in The Tsui Museum of Art. Chinese Ceramics IV – Qing Dynasty, Hong Kong, 1995, no. 48. Another rouleau vase in the Palace Museum, Beijing, decorated with scholars rather than fishermen in remote mountains, is illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - 36 - Blue and White Porcelain with Underglazed Red (III), Hong Kong, 2000, p. 19, no. 15. A beaker vase which combines the themes of fishermen and floral sprays is illustrated idem., p. 40, no. 33.