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A large possibly 14th century dish

This is a plate I like quite a bit. It looks good but I am not certain - I have not handled enough large Yuan or Ming plates to tell. The cracks are from top to bottom. The dealer is only half honest guy, sells both true and fake pieces. He said he got it from a good friend of his who had kept it for many years. Also the dealer thinks this plate is possibly from Yunnan, not Jingdezhen. The price was HK$5,000.


Could be ok, interesting in any case

By only looking at the picture of this possibly Yuan/early Ming plate I for my part can't tell anything for certain. The decoration looks like a typical 14th century piece and I have also seen early Ming's with the soft looking, small crackled, glaze this plate has. On the other hand I have seen copies - possibly coming from Malaysia - with a similarly crackled glaze.

On the "pro" side we might have the foot rim - not that it looks "right" but if there is something that characterizes Yuan pieces, compared to Ming pieces, it is the widely different treatment of foot rims and bases.

It is from the extant genuine pieces I have seen apparent that the production during Yuan is run by a group of formerly independent potters who know what they are doing, but does it different. They appear to have been scrambled together to deliver larger consignments of more standardized pieces than before - with underglaze blue decoration. I believe this match with the history, but I am arriving at this from looking at the pieces.

The base on this plate I can't really see clear enough to have any opinion on. Yuan bases could, as the foot rims, look very different probably by the same cause - but if we are looking for something that characterizes a Yuan base, it is that the seemingly simple result have been achieved by a tremendous amount of work.

A perfectly flat base surface will by close inspection have been made flat by thousands of small strokes, pats, polishing etc. and not just made flat by more or less one swift movement. Personally I am interpreting this as a sulky demonstration by the potters against the Mongolian overlords. It looks like they really wanted it to take forever to make one single base. Even if I am completely wrong about the reason, the traces are still there to be seen on specifically Yuan pieces.

This - or only the visibly traces - soon disappears during early Ming.

Regarding the decoration there is really nothing wrong with it. I have of course never seen this center panel together with this border on the same piece before, but they are anyway perfectly contemporary and both from the 14th century. As we know it is a common mistake by later copyists to mix decorative motifs from different periods and thus changing the meaning of the decoration. This feature have also always being considered as a hidden message from the potter to the art connoisseur, making it possibly to date their pieces correctly despite its older appearance.

The decoration in itself is a band of chrysanthemum scrolls surrounding a central aquatic garden with an ornamental fence, garden rocks, bamboo, bananas and a lotus pond with two ducks swimming to meet in the clearing between two lotus stands.

If we consider the meeting of the two ducks - one male and one female - as finding love, and the lotus stands as a symbol for the protection within Buddhist monasteries - the favorite hideout from prosecution and the worldly problems of paying tax, doing military service or why not - work - during this time, the decoration becomes perfectly understandably. Even the chrysanthemum scrolls makes perfect sense, when considering that bringing up chrysanthemums was the favorite pass time among Chinese retired scholars.

Thus the plate looks like a perfectly possibly 14th century Yuan dynasty piece. I would still like to put in one word of caution.

One more thing to consider when thinking of the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368) is the Mongolians distrust of Chinese scholars, who instead of being trusted with any important offices were put to manual labor, and did not as a rule become employed in any important offices during the full dynasty. The most intelligent scholars was probably considered he most dangerous. It is therefore quite possibly that one of the occupations that was found suitable for the best brains, and the best calligraphers of this era, was to be put on the ardous task of decorating porcelain.

The best porcelain pieces of this time could hardly be explained in any other way. Therefore considering the kind of quality we should expect from a Yuan dynasty painted porcelain decoration, the central panel is good but still somewhat lacking some of the strength we would expect.

I don't know what to make out of that - if the plate is Yuan or a later replica - or even when that replica in that case could have been made - but it is still a most interesting piece that do merit to be viewed as an example of what to be expected from a Yuan dynasty piece.

It might actually have happened that the "half honest" antiques dealer made the worst deal of his life when he sold this for HK $ 5000.

Sincerely,
Jan-Erik Nilsson



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