- Museum number
Porcelain sengmaohu (monk's cap ewer) incised beneath a monochrome tianbai glaze. This ewer has a globular body, tall neck, elongated spout with a jagged rim and a long handle with a ruyi-shaped thumb piece. It stands on a low foot ring and the base is glazed. Beneath the tianbai
(sweet-white) glaze it is incised with formal lotus scrolls around the body and neck, lingzhi scrolls on the spout and handle and with classic scrolls around the foot. At the base of the neck is a collar of lotus lappets framing individual lingzhi with a band of lotus scroll below. Each of these lotus blooms supports one of the Eight Treasures of Buddhism. These auspicious emblems are the canopy, parasol, conch shell, wheel, endless knot, lidded jar, paired fish and lotus.
- Production date
Height: 19.40 centimetres
Width: 19.20 centimetres
- Curator's comments
- Harrison-Hall 2001:
Vessels of this shape are known as sengmaohu or monk's cap ewers, possibly because the lip and spout of the ewer resemble the stepped profile of the yellow hat of a Tibetan lamaist monk. Tibetan jugs of this form were originally made in metal, most commonly beaten copper or bronze. Some metal ewers said to have been made in China in the Tibetan form survive. In the Yuan era the shape was first imitated in porcelain at Jingdezhen. A qingbai-glazed ewer of similar size to the present example, with a fitted cover, is now in the Shoudu bowuguan (Capital Museum) in Beijing; it was excavated in 1965 from a Yuan tomb in the Haiding district, Beijing. During the Yongle era monk's cap ewers were made in the imperial kilns at Jingdezhen. Recent excavations at Zhushan in 1983 have uncovered white monk's cap ewers, together with their lids with domed finials, which rest inside the neck on an inner ridge. These were found in the Yongle stratum which predates 1419.
The Yongle emperor followed his father's lead in the restoration of diplomatic and trading missions with Tibet and sent envoys to Gyanytse in 1412-13. Indeed he employed high-ranking Tibetan lamas to conduct important ceremonies at court. He invited the Tibetan religious leader, the fifth 'Black Hat' Karmapa, Halima (1384-1415), then the most influential lama, to come to the court at the then capital Nanjing. Religious ceremonies for Yongle's deceased parents were performed in 1407, 1413, 1414 and 1419. These were public acts of filial piety designed to confirm his legitimacy as emperor and emphasize that he was the son of the Hongwu emperor and of his principal consort, the empress Ma. The Yongle emperor personally attended these ceremonies to offer incense. He also bestowed ritual vessels as gifts to the Tibetans including Halima during his stay in 1406-8.
A similar design of lotus flowers supporting the Eight Buddhist Treasures may be found in gold on a pair of red-lacquered sandalwood "bKa'-'gyur" covers in the British Museum. They were part of a series of book covers for the 108 volumes of the first Tibetan printed edition of the Buddhist canon, produced in 1410 by order of the Yongle emperor. These covered canonical texts were presented to the thirty-second abbot, Kunga Tashi Gyaltsen, who visited the Yongle emperor in Beijing in 1413-14, and to Sakya Yeshe, who came in 1415-16 as Tsongkhapa's representative. Tsongkhapa (1357-1410) was the leader of the most important of the seven major schools of lamaism, the Gelupka (called 'Yellow Hats' in China). It was a reform movement which demanded a high code of conduct among its clergy and a strict adherence to lamaist principles.
Ewers of this shape were also made with Tibetan inscriptions, incised under white glaze or inscribed in underglaze blue. Other identical Yongle period monk's cap ewers with lotus and the Eight Buddhist Treasures include examples in the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm, and in the Idemitsu Museum of Art, Tokyo.
- On display (G33/dc33b/s2)
- Exhibition history
2012 Sep – 2013 Apr, BM G91, ‘Ritual and revelry: the art of drinking in Asia'
- Acquisition date
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: 3:2