BFE 08 A powder-blue and copper red decorated dish


Kangxi ca 1680-1700

The shallow dish has rounded sides and a broad everted rim. The centre is decorated in underglaze blue and red with a travelling figure, wearing loose robes and trousers exposing his bare belly. He is looking at a pearl which he holds in his raised left hand. With his right hand he carries a long pole extending over his shoulder, suspending a bundle and a fly whisk. The figure is reserved against a powder-blue ground. The reverse side is decorated in underglaze blue with two pairs of bamboo sprays. The recessed base is painted with a flowerhead within a double circle.
24 cm diameter

The figure depicted on this striking dish is probably the Buddhist monk Xuanzang (603-664), who made a seventeen-year journey to bring Buddhist teachings from India to China. As a scholar, he played a very important role in the translation of these works (1). Xuanzang is often depicted carrying a fly whisk and a large bundle on his back containing heaps of Buddhist scriptures after returning to China from his journey to India, as can be seen on a Nepalese woodblock print published by H.A. van Oort (2). It has also been suggested that the figure on this dish is Monk Hua, one of the ‘fighting monks’ from the well-known novel Shuihu zhuan, who was a master of ‘single-stick’ fighting (3).

The present dish is one of a set of eight, formerly in a private American collection, acquired from Spink in 1962. A near-identical dish is published by Christiaan J.A. Jörg and Jan van Campen and shown on the front cover of the book Chinese Ceramics in the Collection of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam – Ming and Qing Dynasties (4). No other porcelains depicting this figure appear to be recorded. However, there is a related dish of rounded shape, depicting a smiling monk, in the Shanghai Museum (5), and another one depicting a lady, in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (6). A further powder-blue dish, of the same shape as the present dish and decorated in underglaze red with a dragon, appeared at auction in New York (7), and another, decorated with a figure against a celadon ground, was exhibited in by the Oriental Ceramic Society in London (8).

Provenance: Acquired from Spink & Son, Ltd., London, 1962
                       Formerly in the collection of Gaby A. Kety, Louisiana
                       Christie’s New York, 16 September 2016, lot 1347

  1. Oort van, Chinese Kunst, Baarn 1980, p. 64
  2. Oort van, 1980, p. 63
  3. Jörg, C.J.A., and Campen van, J. Chinese Ceramics in the Collection of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, London 1997, p. 128
Ceramics > Early Ceramics