19 Nov 2019

They used to say that Yuan Blue-White Ceramics don’t exist. How was it then discovered?

This pair of Yuan Blue-white porcelain, perhaps you may know its story, origin and even legend, but it is more likely most people don't. What is its significance? Where is it now? Why is it there? The story of this ceramic begins with a foreigner.

Percival David

Percival David, born in 1892 in a wealthy merchant in Mumbai, India, has been obsessed with ancient Chinese art throughout his life, and has surrounded his life with Chinese porcelain, dedicating his life to studying it. .

He inherited the tradition of Chinese art connoisseurs, by not only appreciating the ceramics and porcelain itself, but also to examine their historical and cultural background, inheritance and provenance.

Not only did he go to China to study these ceramics he made famous scholars and collectors friends. He also learned Chinese himself and even can study ancient Chinese literature.

Since the age of 22, after more than forty years of tireless efforts, he has built the world's most exciting private Chinese ceramic collection. He eventually donated it to the British Museum; which was a big momentous event in the collector's world in the West.

In China before the 1950s, people believed there was no blue-and-white porcelain produced in the Yuan Dynasty. Interestingly enough, it was not the Chinese who corrected this myth, but two foreigners: one is the Chinese ancient porcelain expert Robert Lockhart Robson in the United Kingdom, and the other is John Alexander Pope from the United States.

The way they corrected this misunderstanding is through this pair of blue-and-white dragon image porcelain taken from the ancient Zhihua Temple in Beijing in the 1929s and taken to the Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art. This was a pair of blue-and-white dragon ear porcelain dated 1351 as shown below.

These vases landed in Percival David's hands in 1929.

This pair of blue vases is up to 63.6 centimeters. It has a long and straight shape, and the blue and white hair is bright and green. From the bottle mouth to the bottle, the top and bottom of the bottle are painted with nine layers of different patterns such as dragon and phoenix, sea water, banana leaves, daisy, tangled branches, moiré, miscellaneous treasures, etc., with the most typical style of Yuan blue and white.

More importantly, the upper part of the bottleneck carries an unusual and precious inscription: "Xinzhou Road, Yushan County, Yucheng County, Dejiao, Jingtang, Jingtang, Fengshi, the sacred disciple, Zhang Wenjin, Xixiang incense furnace vase, a pair of praying for the family, Qingji children, safe and correct, eleven years In April, remember to remember the star source ancestral hall Hu Jing a marshal." (Translated from “信州路玉山县顺城乡德教里荆塘社奉圣弟子张文进喜舍香炉花瓶一副祈保合家清吉子女平安至正十一年四月良辰谨记 星源祖殿胡净一元帅打供”)

It is this unique inscription written in 1351 AD that makes this pair of bottles the most authentic and unique evidence, and provides clear clues to the many mysteries produced by Jingdezhen ceramics in the Yuan Dynasty.

61 Inscriptions on the vase

It's not to say we're sure about the means by which Percival David obtained this piece. He loved Chinese porcelain art, and accumulated more than a thousand pieces throughout his life. It might be inevitable that such a piece would land up in his hands.

But thanks to the research and introduction of British Chinese porcelain, Robert Lockhart Hobson and American Chinese porcelain, Dr. John Alexander Pope, David's collection is made known to the world. When David saw this pair of porcelain vases, he immediately asked Hobson, who taught Chinese ceramic art at the University of London, to carry out the appraisal. Hobson published the monograph "Chinese Ceramics" as early as 1915. After Hobson’s preliminary identification of the vases, in 1929, he published an article entitled “Blue-and-White before the Ming Dynasty” in the magazine “Antique Furniture”.

In 1934, Hobson entered the pair of vases into the records in the catalog of Percival David's collection. Hobson’s introduction to these vases attracted the attention of Dr. John Alexander Pope, a Chinese ancient ceramic scholar at the Flier Gallery in the United States.

After repeatedly comparing the Yuan Dynasty vases of David's collection, he used these two porcelain bottles as the standard. They would be enshrined in the Chinese blue and white porcelain of the Aldbil temple in Iran and the collection of the Topkapi Palace in Turkey.

Dozens of Chinese porcelains with similar styles were compared in detail. All blue and white porcelains with the style of the vases were designated as 14th century blue and white porcelain, and the blue and white porcelain of the Yuan Dynasty was separated from the blue and white of the Ming Dynasty.

In 1952 and 1956, he published two books on the theory of blue-and-white, namely, "Blue-and-White in the 14th Century: A Group of Chinese Porcelain in the Museum of the Tobkap Palace in Istanbul" and "Chinese Porcelain in the Collection of the Adebier Temple". 》. Since then, the research on the blue-and-white porcelain of the Yuan Dynasty, represented by the “Zhengzheng bottle”, has obtained the attention of the whole world, and it has also awakened the attention of the Chinese people to Yuan Blue-and-White, and catalyzed the discussion and enthusiasm for the fine porcelain of the Yuan Dynasty.

David's Collection of Yuan Blue-and-White Porcelain

In 1950, David donated more than a thousand pieces of Chinese porcelain in his life collection to the University of London, and established the Percival David China Art Foundation at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.

In 2009, due to lack of funds, the University of London had to transfer all of the 1,691 pieces of Chinese porcelain to the British Museum, which was displayed at the Ceramic Research Center specially prepared by Sir Ho Hong Qing. In 2009, the British Museum opened Hall 95 to display the collection of Chinese ceramics by Sir David Percival.

Our study of history and civilization is always revealing new things unknown. Sir David's selfless contribution to society is a dedication to future generations, and illuminated history with new truth, goodness and beauty. If you ever come to the British Museum and walk in to Hall 95, listen carefully, for every artifact is whispering the truth of its past!

(This article was originally written in Chinese by 海加微, Director of the Collection Department of Shenzhen International Auction Office in Shenzhen)




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