BPU 02 A blue and white box and cover

Chongzhen, circa 1635-1644

The box is of circular form, supported on a short tapering foot. The exterior of the box is painted in underglaze blue in penciled style with lotus heads amongst scrolling foliage. The domed cover is decorated with a repeated design, below a central roundel enclosing a single phoenix. The interior is glazed and contains a liner pierced with a central cash motif and painted in underglaze blue with two flower sprays. The base is inscribed with an apocryphal six-character mark of  Xuande.
7.8 cm diameter

This finely painted box, which has the shape of a seal paste box made for the scholar’s table, is one of a large group of covered boxes excavated from the ‘Chinese Junk’ discovered by Captain Michael Hatcher. Amongst them are many different shapes, sizes and decorative subjects, but only a few contain pierced liners (1). These liners are not found outside the shipwreck (2), making it difficult to determine their original function. It has been suggested that they were used to dispense controlled amounts of rouge (3), which would make the present piece a cosmetic box. Identical liners, found in boxes with straight sides and described as cricket boxes, apparently had a very different function (4). 

Considering that this box has been in the sea for more than three hundred years, the blue colour and the glaze are in remarkably good condition. The liner, which has always been inside the box, has been preserved even better and the glaze does not look matt. Only a small number of similar boxes with liners and phoenix design were sold during the Hatcher Cargo sales in Amsterdam (5) (6). They appear unrecorded outside the wreck. A similar box, but decorated with a flowering branch, is in the Butler Family Collection (7).  Another very similar box with phoenix, but with a Jiajing mark is in the Tom Lurie Collection and illustrated by Teresa Canepa in'Jingdezhen to the World, The Lurie Collection of Chinese Export Porcelain from the Late Ming Dynasty', 2019, No 124

Provenance: Recovered by Michael Hatcher from the ‘Chinese Junk’ shipwreck, 1983, Christie’s Amsterdam, 14 March 1984

  1. Sheaf and Kilburn, 'The Hatcher Porcelain Cargoes', 1988, p. 167
  2. S. Marchant & Son, 1989, pl. 33
  3. Butler, Medley and Little, 'Seventeenth Century Chinese Porcelain from the Butler Family Collection, 1990, pl. 51
  4. Curtis, 'Chinese Porcelains of the Seventeenth Century-Landscapes, Scholar's Motifs and Narratives,1995, pl. 8
  5. Christie’s Amsterdam, 14 March 1984, lot 
Ceramics > Early Ceramics