Chinese / Bowl / Ming period, Xuande era, 1426-1435Chinese
Ming period, Xuande era, 1426-1435

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Creator Nationality: Asian; Far East Asian; Chinese
Creator Name-CRT: Chinese
Title: Bowl
View: Full View
Creation Start Date: 1426
Creation End Date: 1435
Creation Date: Ming period, Xuande era, 1426-1435
Creation Place: China, Jiangxi Province
Object Type: Decorative Arts and Utilitarian Objects
Classification Term: Ceramics
Materials and Techniques: Porcelain painted with underglaze cobalt blue (Jingdezhen ware)
Dimensions: H. 3 1/2 in. (8.9 cm); D. 4 in. (10.2 cm)
AMICA Contributor: Asia Society
Owner Location: New York, New York, USA
ID Number: 1979.164
Credit Line: Asia Society: The Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection
Context: Noted for their refined bodies and elegant shapes, porcelains made during the reigns of the Xuande (1426-1435) and Chenghua (1465-1487) emperors of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) are ranked among the finest examples of imperial Chinese wares. Many of the characteristics of 15th-century porcelains result from increased imperial interest in ceramics. Ceramic production during this time--which was the near-exclusive domain of the imperial Jingdezhen kilns in Jiangxi Province--is noted for the development and refinement of techniques for making and decorating wares, experimentation with shapes and designs, and the widespread use of reign marks (inscriptions that identify the name of the dynasty and the reign name of the emperor). A six-character Xuande mark iswritten on the base of this large bowl.

The Xuande era also saw the development of themes that reflect the interests of the scholar-gentleman class. The imagery painted on the exterior of this bowl belongs to this category. Its theme, the Four Gentlemanly Accomplishments, is exquisitely painted in underglaze blue in a composition that covers the entire body of the bowl. Calligraphy, painting, music, and chess are the Four Gentlemanly Accomplishments. Here they are practiced by figures in a garden set against a background of distant mountains that skillfully suggests the view from a terrace. Each of the accomplishments is represented as a vignette within the overall composition, with plants, rocks, and trees separating each scene. Although the theme reflects the activities of the educated male elite, the clothing and hairstyles of the figures on this bowl indicate that they are women--which gives an unusual twist to this standard theme.

Bowls of this shape are generally called 'dice bowls' in the West, presumably because they were believed to have been used in throwing dice. However, some questions remain regarding their actual use. They are generally more thickly potted than other porcelains bearing the Xuande reign mark. While the thicker body may reflect the intended function of the piece--whether or not this was the rolling of dice--other explanations are possible. For example, this thickness is similar to that found in Xuande-period porcelains produced for use outside the court, suggesting that thicker porcelains with imperial marks were made to be given as gifts by members of the court, which could explain the combination of a reign mark and a thicker body. In this case, the use of popular themes with scholarly overtones such as the Four Gentlemanly Accomplishments might reflect the taste of the scholar-gentleman and other bureaucrats who were employed at the court.

Related Document Description: Asia Society. Handbook of the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection. New York: Asia Society, [1981], p. 74.
AMICA ID: ASIA.1979.164
AMICA Library Year: 1999
Media Metadata Rights: Copyright, Asia Society

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