A large Wucai jar

Shunzhi, 1644-1661

The heavily potted jar rises from a tapering foot to broad shoulders and a slightly waisted neck. The exterior is painted in underglaze blue, green, yellow and aubergine enamels and iron-red with a continuous decoration of a phoenix amidst rocks, bamboo, peony, magnolia, numerous birds in flight and hovering insects, all reserved against a dense iron-red fish-scale ground. The neck is encircled with a classic scroll and a diaper border, below an underglaze blue border of overlapping petals. Two flower-shaped handles, pierced in the centre, are applied in relief on the neck below the mouth. The interior is entirely covered with glaze and the slightly concave base is left unglazed.
38 cm high  

Provenance: Sotheby’s London, 6 November 2013, lot 411  

The shape of the present jar, baluster with broad shoulders tapering to a flat unglazed base, does not seem to be produced before or after Shunzhi. The two pierced handles are highly unusual. Their function was perhaps to attach an original cover, or to attach a metal handle or a strong cord for carrying. In case of the latter, there may not have been a cover at all. Iron-red backgrounds in fish scale or geometric patterns combined with Wucaiis a Shunzhi innovation. It has been suggested that some of these wares were made for export to India or the Middle East, as two vases of this type may have been presented to an Indian king in 1648. The subject on the present vase, however, would have been very popular in China, having an auspicious meaning that refers to paying homage to the emperor. The phoenix is regarded the ‘king of birds’, thus the decoration on the present vase represents ‘Hundred birds courting the phoenix’, bainiao chaofeng.   The painting on the present jar is very refined for porcelains of this type. A similar jar, although smaller and less elaborately decorated, as well as a deep dish, are in the Butler Family Collection. Curtis illustrates a jar of similar shape, without underglaze blue, decorated with four fish against a wave ground.

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