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Saucer dish from China

This bowl is a particularly fine example of late Ming blue and white export porcelain produced in the provincial kilns at Jingdezhen (Jiangxi province) during the reign of the Wanli Emperor (1572–1620) until about 1640. Known as kraak porcelain (probably after the Dutch word ‘carrack’, meaning a Portuguese galleon that traded with the East Indies), it was the first type of Chinese export ware to reach Europe in bulk, initially via Portuguese traders and subsequently via the Dutch East India Company (voc). Impervious to water, unlike other luxury imports such as textiles or spices, kraak was used as ballast cargo, and has been discovered in great quantities in shipwrecks. The inspiration behind certain types of Imari porcelain (made at Arita, Japan), Persian Safavid blue and white ceramics and Dutch and English Delftware pottery, kraak porcelain features prominently in seventeenth century Dutch still-life paintings of exotica, and was often fitted with fashionable silver-gilt mounts, as here, to protect its edges and increase its preciousness. 

Although not of imperial quality, this bowl is thinly potted and vigorously painted, and is of a much higher quality than many Chinese export ceramics, such as contemporary swatow ware or kraak ware of the 1630s and 1640s. Indeed, its glazed recessed base bears the good wish mark fu gui jia qi, proclaiming it to be a ‘fine vessel for wealth and honour’, which appears on very few examples. Its basic shape with high foot-ring and high, slightly flared sides is typically Chinese, but its bracket-lobed rim and sides moulded in low relief with ten slightly lobed panels are not. Similarly, its decoration has been modified to suit Western taste. While the motifs are typically Chinese (rocky landscapes with pagodas and banners, birds perched on flowering branches, floral sprays and horses leaping over crested waves and flames) and also include specific Buddhist auspicious emblems (alternating flaming wheels [chakras] 5 and ruyi-heads), their specific placement on the bowl (repeating designs arranged in radial segments and distinct horizontal bands around a central medallion on the interior) is based on a Western aesthetic. 

It is almost identical to ‘The Walsingham Bowl’ in the Burghley House collection, fitted with silver-gilt mounts dating to c.1580–1600, traditionally believed to have been presented by Queen Elizabeth I as a christening gift. It also resembles an example in the Danisches National Museum, Copenhagen, with silver-gilt mounts by Jacob Borch dated 1608. The typically Elizabethan silver-gilt mount of the present bowl’s rim is struck twice with an unidentified maker’s mark (an ‘R’ in a Tudor rose?) but no date or town mark, and pricked with an unidentified coat-of-arms, presumably that of a former owner.