Diameter: 12.000 cm (base)
Bequeathed by Mrs Walter Sedgwick
Asia OA 1968.4-22.41
Room 33: Asia
From Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province, southern
Ming dynasty, Chenghua reign (AD 1465-87)
An unusual 'heaven' reign mark
This doucai jar is decorated with a blue, three-clawed dragon among leaves and floral scrolls. In doucai ('contrasting' or 'joined colours') ceramics, the design is outlined in underglaze blue and filled in with overglaze coloured enamels (except blue, since there was no satisfactory overglaze blue enamel at this time. Blue elements of the design were painted under the glaze).
Doucai wares are the best known ceramics produced in the Chenghua period (AD 1465-87). The perfectly crafted cups and dishes were typically small; the emperor Chenghua particularly liked to hold them in his hands. However, their small size was also a matter of technique: if the outline painter made a mistake, it meant disaster, since the cobalt was immediately absorbed into the unglazed body.
Most doucai pieces have a reign mark of four- or six-characters. However, this jar has a single-character mark: tian ('heaven'), probably referring to the emperor. There are similar marks on jars in other museums and on sherds that have been excavated recently, but no one yet knows why this mark appears only on this type of jar from the Chenghua period.
The production of doucai wares declined drastically after the Chenghua emperor died, though small quantities were produced in the sixteenth century. The technique was revived in the eighteenth century, during the Qing dynasty.
J. Harrison-Hall, Ming ceramics (London, The British Museum Press, 2001)
S.J. Vainker, Chinese pottery and porcelain, (London, The British Museum Press, 1991)
J. Harrison-Hall, 'Chinese porcelain from Jingdezhen' in Pottery in the making: worl-10 (London, The British Museum Press, 1997), pp. 194-99