|Huge ‘Kraak Porselein’ Charger (WBW111609)|
|c.1580-1600s, late 16th century
Wanli period, Ming dynasty
Porcelain with underglaze cobalt blue; Jingdezhen ware
Diameter: 52 cm / 20.5 cm
Height: 9 cm
From an English private collection
A monumentally large late Ming Wanli period blue and white ‘kraak porselein’ charger, of typical design for the period featuring a central well with three ruishou ‘foo’ lions playing among flowering tendrils, and framed by a flaring cavetto with radiating lappet-shaped panels painted with alternating precious Buddhist emblems and floral sprigs. The exposed unglazed base is of very fine porcelain biscuit that’s velvety to the touch.
This piece is quite rare for two reasons: one, its unusually large size; and two, its pristine condition. At 52 cm, this piece is among the largest such ‘kraak porselein’ chargers recorded. Of all the available auction records, only one charger, measuring 52.7 cm and auctioned by Christie’s London in 2013, is measured to be slightly larger. It could be surmised that Jingdezhen potters considered the ~ 52 cm mark to be a guideline limit of sorts, and that chargers larger than this diameter were simply not made. The conspicuous absence of kraak chargers larger than ~ 52 cm is also interesting from a scholarly perspective because it provides a dimensional cap of how large an object the late Ming Jingdezhen commercial kilns could handle, and what the potters and merchants thought were the biggest dishes & chargers safe to be manufactured and transported across oceans. Perhaps due to their weight and heft, these giant chargers were more prone to damage than smaller pieces. A vast majority of these huge kraak chargers on the market today are damaged with hairline cracks or restorations. That this particular charger is free from damage after more than 400 years is a rare occurrence indeed.
The term “kraak” comes from the Dutch, whose East India Company (Verenigde Oost-Indische, or VOC) seized naval dominance from the Portuguese in the 17 – 18th centuries. “Kraak” is thus a Dutch corruption of the Portuguese word “carraca”– a large ocean-going cargo ship Portuguese merchants utilized in the 16th century to trade with China. In 1602 and 1604, the Dutch seized Portuguese ships Santa Caterina and San Yago, and various captured ‘kraak porselein’ loot were auctioned off to great success in Europe. Attentive buyers included Henri IV of France and James I of England.