A large Ming Fahua baluster jar and cover, Guan. Ming Dynasty, First half 16th century. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd., 2010
Strongly potted, the sides decorated depicting a procession of the Eight Daoist Immortals walking towards Shoulao seated and flanked by his deer and a crane, the Eight Immortals carrying various attributes among pine trees in a landscape setting, above a large petal lappet band enclosing inverted lotus buds, all below a ruyi collar enclosing lotus blooms, with a further narrow petal lappet band on the shoulder below a band of vaporous cloud scrolls to the everted neck, the domed cover with two further lotus sprays below a large knop finial, the moulded facial features of the Immortals reserved in the biscuit, the design within raised borders filled with translucent turquoise, white and ochre coloured glazes; 17 in. (43.2 cm.) high, box . Estimate HK$1,500,000 - HK$2,500,000. Price Realized HK$4,220,000 ($545,647)
Provenance: Edward T. Chow Collection
Notes: This fahua jar is one of only a small group of such vessels to be decorated with a Daoist theme. The Eight Daoist Immortals are shown in very lively fashion around the sides of the jar. The Eight Immortals depicted on the current jar include Li Tieguai, who is shown with his crutch and holding a double-gourd; Lan Caihe, who appears with flowers in his hand; Zhang Guolao, who is depicted with his bamboo-tube drum and iron sticks; Cao Guoqiu, who holds a jade tablet in front of him; Han Xiangzi, who is depicted playing his flute; Zhong Liquan, who is shown with his scholars robe open to the waist; as well as Lu Dongbin and He Xiangu whose attributes are not distinguishable in this particular scene.
This jar is a classic example of the vibrant fahua-decorated vessels made at Jingdezhen in the mid-Ming period. The technique of using raised slip lines to produce cloisons, in which differently coloured, low-firing, glazes could be applied was one that may have originated at the kilns making architectural ceramics in north China.
The smaller and more detailed the individual decorative elements within a design, the more time-consuming and difficult it was to produce. This is generally true, but is particularly relevant to fahua-decorated porcelains. Thus fahua vessels, like the current jar, which are decorated with detailed designs of figures, would have been more time-consuming to make than those vessels decorated with large-scale simplified floral motifs. The current jar is especially finely decorated.
In 1972 a Chenghua fahua jar with cobalt blue ground and a design of the Eight Daoist Immortals was excavated from a site in Beijing. This jar is now preserved in the Capital Museum, Beijing and is illustrated by Zhang Bai in Complete Collection of Ceramic Art Unearthed in China, Vol. 1 (Beijing), Beijing 2008, p. 184, no. 184.
The form and decorative bands also relate well to a slightly later Zhengde blue and white jar excavated in 2003 from a tomb in Dongguan illustrated in Complete Collection of Ceramic Art Unearthed in China, Vol. 10, Beijing, 2008, p. 65, no. 65. Jingdezhen fahua seems particularly to have flourished in the period from the Chenghua reign (1465-87) to the Jiajing reign (1522-66). A blue and white jar excavated in the suburbs of Beijing in 1966, and now in the collection of the Capital Museum displays very similar treatment of the band around its foot, similar clouds around the neck, and similar approach to the filler motifs in the cloud collar. This blue and white Hongzhi lidded jar is illustrated in Complete Collection of Ceramic Art Unearthed in China, Vol. 1, op. cit., p. 147, no. 147.
The Eight Daoist Immortals appear on a small number of late 15th and16th century fahua vessels, sometimes, as on the present example, accompanied by Shoulao the Star God of Longevity. As well as the fahua jar in the Capital Museum, Beijing, decorated with a design of the Eight Immortals crossing the sea, compare a jar with very similar decoration and almost identical depiction of the facial features in the MOA Museum, Atami, illustrated in Selected Catalogue Chinese Ceramics MOA Museum of Art, 1982, no. 59. The main difference seems to be the inclusion of Buddhistic emblems rather than lotus blooms in the ruyi collar encircling the shoulder. Compare also a double-gourd vase in the British Museum illustrated by J. Harrison-Hall, op. cit., 2001, p. 414, no. 13:10, which has a design of Shoulao and the Eight Immortals arranged over both bulbs against a turquoise ground, dated to the Jiajing reign (1522-66). A fahua jar decorated with a very similar scene of the eight immortals and Shoulao was sold at Christie's London, 7 November 2006, lot 183. Compare also a fahua jar with very similar decorative bands decorated with figures in a landscape formerly in the Manno Museum Collection, sold at Christie's Hong Kong, Important Chinese Art from The Manno Art Museum, 28 October 2002, lot 535; and another from the Jingguantang Collection, sold at Christie's New York, 20 March 1997, lot 78.
Christie's. Important Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, 1 December 2010, Hong Kong www.christies.com