|Ruby-Ground ‘Silkwork’ Hu Vase (GMR101701)|
ca. 1610 – 1620s, 17th century
Chongzhen period; Chongzhen-Shunzhi Ming Qing transitional period
Hard-paste porcelain with underglaze cobalt blue; Jingdezhen ware
Height: 27.9 cm / 11 in
From a Paris metropolitan area private collection; property of a French lady; old inventory and partial label to base.
A large and sturdily potted transitional blue and white ‘lianzi guan’ ovoid jar, featuring a round globular body painted with a continuous scene of a Ming official traveling with his entourage within a rocky landscape enveloped by swirling clouds.
The late Ming period, pockmarked by political and military disasters, marked a low point for Chinese imperial rule. The breakdown of central authority however encouraged nearly a century of economic growth. Mid 16th- early 17th c China experienced unprecedented prosperity as rapid development of local industries (such as cotton goods in Songjiang, sericulture in Huzhou, and textiles and various other manufactured goods south of the Yangzi valley) encouraged a commerce-based money economy and stimulated the establishment of various affluent urban centers. The late Ming migration from countryside to city occurred hand-in-hand with the expansion of the middle-upper classes (which included merchants, scholar-officials, various landed gentry, and some literati); these well-to-do members flocked to cosmopolitan urban areas to enjoy their wealth in an increasingly rich and gorgeous material world.
This newfound purchasing power of the late Ming citizenry, along with the rise of international maritime trade, directly spurred the production of non-imperial porcelain at Jingdezhen. By this time the Ming government was essentially defunct, and lacked the means to finance its imperial kilns. Potters at Jingdezhen thus re-directed energies and resources towards domestic and trade markets. Thus, 17th-century private kilns arguably produced the best non-imperial wares in the history of Jingdezhen ceramics.
Deftly executed and boldly painted, the images found on transitional blue and whites often celebrate popular culture and vernacular belief. Most figural scenes are sourced from common legends, historical narratives, plays, novels, and woodblock prints. The scene painted on this particular jar is likely a variation on the popular artistic theme, “Summoning the Hermit.” In stories and legends such as “Xuan Yuan Asking the Way” and “Visiting Pang Degong”, dignitaries travel with their entourage deep into the mountains, to seek wisdom and advice from some hermit-sage, and to emerge morally refreshed from a trip into nature.
The “lianzi guan” (lotus jar) shape is one completely unique to the transitional period. Stylistic features of this jar points to a production date somewhere during the first half of the Chongzhen reign. Its painting style is closer to Tianqi brushwork, and is considerably more loose and free than Shunzhi examples. The jar’s shoulder does not have an incised decorative band, which is a common stylistic feature in late Chongzhen – Shunzhi period blue and whites. The jar is also more globular and bulging at the middle than later Chongzhen and Shunzhi lianzi guan jars, which tend to be more slender and elongated. An ovoid blue and white jar, dated Tianqi period, in the British Museum (Franks.1473) is rather squat and stout compared to later examples, but it can be understood as an immediate predecessor to this jar.