Imperial massive blue and white fish bowl, yu gang, the rim with six character mark of Jiajing and of the period, 1522-1566

with lipped rim, painted with three carp and a freshwater perch (also known as mandarin fish) amongst lotus flowerheads, leaves, underground stem (rhizome), water clover, fern and other aquatic plants, all between double lines, the base unglazed. 27 5/8 inches, 70.2cm diameter; 13 ¾ inches, 35cm high. Price on application

Notes: A dragon jardinière of this form, from the J.Love Collection, is illustrated by R.L. Hobson in The Wares of the Ming Dynasty, 1962, fig.2, pl.26; another similarly painted with ducks amongst lotus, from the collection of His Majesty the King of Sweden, is illustrated by Bo Gyllensvärd and Jan Wirgin in Ming Blue-and-White, From Swedish Collections, Exhibition in the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm, 1964, no.59, p.24, pl.58.

A wucai Jiajing mark and period fish bowl of similar form is illustrated by John Ayers in Chinese Ceramics in the Baur Collection, Volume I, Geneva, 1999, no.102 (A202), p.164.

Massive urns or jardinières for fish, were the most difficult to manufacture and many broke in the Palace Gardens due to the water’s freezing in the harsh winters. They were particularly popular during the reign of the Jiajing and Wanli Emperors.

A full description of this subject matter is included by Guiseppe Eskenazi in Two Rare Chinese Porcelain Fish Jars of the 14th and 16th Centuries, November 2002.

Fish, yu, is a pun for abundance and plenty. Thus it is important to eat fish during Chinese New Year so that the family will have an abundance of good wishes. Another interpretation of fish is that of rank. During the Tang dynasty (618-906), officials of the fifth rank and above wore ornaments in the shape of fish. As well as a sign of rank, the badge acted as a pass to enter the court precinct. Because fish swim happily in their surroundings, often in pairs, they are symbols of connubial bliss; they spawn many eggs and are also a symbol of fecundity. Carp, liyu, is a pun for enormous profits and is a symbol of the scholar who perseveres, similar to the carp that has the ability to swim upstream against the current. The perch, guiyu, is a pun for wealth and honour and is characterised by a spiny dorsal fin and rounded caudal fin. Fish and lotus form the rebus “may you continuously have plenty, year after year”, liannian youyu.

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