CATALOGUE NUMBER 0233
LARGE BLUE & WHITE BOWL
KANGXI PERIOD (1661-1722)
Diameter: 14 ½ inches
Berwald Oriental Art, London, 2000
The exterior of the bowl is boldly painted on two registers with twelve scenes from one of the most popular love stories in China’s literary history. Wang Shifu (c. 1250-1300), a Yuan dynasty playwright, adapted an earlier 12th century compilation of the famous Tang dynasty tale, Xi Xiang Ji or 'The Romance of the Western Chamber'. It is the story of two lovers, the handsome aspiring scholar Zhang Gong and the beautiful Cui Yingying who overcome trials and tribulations to be joined in marriage. The love story was condemned during much of the Ming dynasty as being too risqué and morally dubious. The saga regained popularity in the 17th century which led to the production of numerous woodblock print illustrations. Wealthy merchants most likely commissioned versions of these prints to be rendered in porcelain, and the Jingdezhen kiln workers were glad of the work in the absence of imperial commissions after the death of Wanli. It is recorded by the monk Muchen Min that the Shunzhi emperor was particularly fond of the story which most certainly must have contributed to the production of images from the saga in Jingdezhen. For further discussion see Michael Butler, Julia B. Curtis and Stephen Little, Shunzhi Porcelain, Virginia, 2002, p. 74.
From approximately 1630 to 1720, narrative scenes from Chinese religions, philosophies, novels, plays and poems frequently found their way onto porcelain surfaces. As popular reference points and as socio-political commentary, these narratives, historically set, bridge time and cultural differences.
A nearly identical bowl is in the Liverpool Art Museum; a gift from Lord and Lady Lever. The bowl was acquired by Lord Lever, with the help of the dealer Edgar Gorer, from the Richard Bennett Collection, see Catalogue of the Collection of Old Chinese Porcelains formed by Richard Bennett, Esq., Gorer, London 1911, no. 23, p. 7. Of similar size and composition, the individual scenes vary from the present bowl. Certainly produced in the same firing, the scenes on both bowls are not presented sequentially but it is tempting to speculate that they may have been part of a narrative set.
Text and images on this page appear courtesy of
Sotheby's New York and are excerpted from:
Sotheby's New York. Embracing Classic Chinese Culture: Kangxi Porcelain from the Jie Rui Tang Collection. March 14, 2014, p. 39. [exhibition catalog].