Chinese Jiajing (1507-1567) Blue and White Porcelains
Cobalt used to decorate Jiajing blue and white porcelain can today be seen in an astounding range of tones. Ranging from a deep dark purplish tone to sapphire blue to soft violet. Much of this is due to the length and timing of this emperor’s reign coupled with the changes which took place in kiln techniques, sources of cobalt, national economics, trade and the political shifts during this, for Chinese standards, very long reign. When looking a Jiajing porcelains, keep in mind the vast and rapid changes which began in the mid 15h C. to early 16th C. . The global effect these changes had for a century afterwards is immeasurable.
Every shade of blue imaginable… can be found on Jiajing porcelains and into the Wanli period.
Why did this happen? Why the shift? Two things happened….
Imperial Taste , Innovation and The Mixing of Cobalts
First: Up until the second half of the 15th C. the dominant Cobalt used on porcelains was imported from Persia which produced the deep purplish color many associate with this period. While Persian cobalt continued to be imported during the 15th C., porcelain taste in China under Chenghua (1465-1487) changed towards softer under-glaze colors and over-glaze enamels. During this time Imperial orders began requiring these clearer, softer and more even un-derglaze blues. To satisfy the Imperial orders, potters learned to mix imported Persian and locally mined Chinese cobalt ore-pigments resulting in the desired effect after firing. Initially much of the local ore mixed with the imported cobalt came from Leping county near Jingdezhen . These two minerals were used side by side particularly during the Chenghua-Hongzhi periods.
The results were found to be very predictable and consistent in quality giving a delicate shade which had previously been hard to replicate. By the end of the 15th C., due to increasing demand, numerous sources of cobalt had been developed in China, all having their own color signatures based on mineral compositions. It is these combinations and their characteristics after firing which have at times caused some confusion in the precise dating of Jiajing wares. While exactly where some of these mines were is not precisely known due to poor documentation, it is known that the famous Mohammedan Blue perhaps came from two places; the Yunnan province and the Central Asia area of Kwarism known as huihui. The other mine locations are not at present known with any precision.
The Implementation of Guan da min shao
During the Jiajing and into the Wanli period, Imperial orders for porcelains were massive. The demand, unable to be met by the Official Kilns was basically sub-contracted out to private kilns by Imperial Edict known as Guan da min shao (Government order people fire) Consequently selected Jingdezhen kilns were required to complete “Official Palace Orders” for very little compensation. These edicts wreaked havoc on local potters. They were required to fulfill Imperial orders and if unable to were forced by to buy porcelain from the official kilns to satisfy their own orders and give them to the Emperor at a loss. The demand for Jiajing blue and white porcelain was massive. Posing a nearly impossible task for kiln operators to fill their own orders while satisfying also the court.
The only good result was, the private kilns quickly became more efficient while mastering improved quality. These changes enabled the production of massive amounts of porcelain during this period. Ultimately the efficiency and manufacturing innovations driven by the edicts, enabled private kilns to massively boost output. As a result we able to sell non-Imperial wares to a large domestic and global market. Resulting in a large legacy of wares of all kinds of quality that we see today. Many ended up in collections from Southeast Asia to Turkey, Syria, Persian to Europe and eventually into South and Central America.
The Jiajing emperor devoted Taoist
The Jiajing emperor was also a devoted Taoist, consequently, imagery used on porcelains of the period reflected his religious tastes. These included the eight Immortals and the eight precious objects, typified what was done along with lots and lots of flying cranes!
Below are a few examples of the tones, shapes, and decorations found in porcelains from this fascinating period in Chinese porcelain history.
Colors can range from an a dense almost purple purple-blue applied thickly almost in clumps to gently outlined in dark strokes and filled with watery washes spilling over these outlines onto the white background. To see how enamels and cobalt were often combined during the Jiajing and Ming Dynasty visit our post Ming Dynasty And Transitional Period Chinese Porcelains With Feet.
Note: Most of the examples shown below are from Christies’ website of item from past sales and can be relied upon to be (I think) accurately dated. Unless otherwise noted.
Jiajing blue and white porcelain photo archive
More on the above Jiajing Jar:
Emperor Shizong, who ruled China as the Jiajing Emperor (1522-66) was unusual amongst the emperors of the Ming dynasty in that he was a fervent proponent of Daoism. Such was his devotion to Daoism that he poured huge sums of money into the construction of Daoist temples and the performance of Daoist rituals, while he ordered the destruction of Buddhist images in 1536 and forbade the display of images in Confucian temples. He developed into an adherent of alchemical Daoism and his overriding concern became the quest for immortality. Unsurprisingly the court arts of his reign frequently bore themes associated with Daoism and longevity.
In its size and shape the current spectacular jar provided the ceramic artist with an ideal ‘canvas’ on which to depict a large gathering of Daoist figures. Foremost amongst these is the Star God of Longevity, Shoulao, who is depicted seated on a flat-topped rock, holding a ruyi sceptre – symbolising ‘everything as you wish’ – and surveying the activities of the other figures. An attendant behind Shoulao offers lingzhi (fungus of immortality), while one of the Eight Daoist Immortals – Lü Dongbin, who can be identified by the sword he carries across his back – offers a tray containing the peaches of longevity. The others from the group of Eight Daoist Immortals, are also incorporated into the design. Each can be identified by what he or she carries. In front of Shoulao’s rock are Han Xiangzi playing his flute and Zhangguo Lao with a bamboo drum and sticks. Further around the jar Zhongli Quan is depicted carrying a fan, He Xiangu carries a lotus, Lan Caihe has castanets, while Li Tiegui leans on the iron crutch, which gives him his name and carries a gourd from which magic vapours rise. A number of other well-known Daoist figures are also included, such as the two figures probably representing the Hehe Erxian – the Immortals of Harmony and Union. One of the other figures may be intended to represent Laozi himself, while a further figure with a fishing rod may be Jiang Taigong Wang, a military strategist who, disillusioned by the behaviour of the last Shang king, retired to fish by the river, but was found and recruited by King Wen of Zhou. Overtime his story became to symbolise the wise ruler seeking able ministers. Two more immortals are shown flying down through the clouds on the backs of phoenixes. It is likely that the overall scene is intended to depict Daoist immortals coming to celebrate the birthday of the God of Longevity. Some of them carry scrolls on which their birthday felicitations would be written, and it is significant that one of the immortals is conjuring up an imperial five-clawed dragon, suggesting that the emperor himself is present on this auspicious occasion.
More on the Guan da min shao
During the reign of the Jiajing emperor, huge numbers of porcelains were commissioned for the court and even with the Imperial kilns working at full capacity, it became necessary to outsource some of the imperial orders to selected private kilns of superior standard in order to meet the voracious demand for pieces commissioned for the court and for Daoist ceremonies held in the temples within the Imperial palace. This system of outsourcing was termed Guan da min shao, ‘By imperial command’, fired in the people’s kilns’. The finest blue and white porcelains made for the court in the Jiajing reign are, nevertheless, renowned for the beauty their blue, which has a jewel-like quality. The Jiangxi dazhi section on ceramics notes that there were three types of blue pigment used on Jiajing porcelains. One was Pitang blue from Leping in Jiangxi, another was shizi (stone) blue, which came from various sites in Ruizhou, and the last, most precious, was the so-called ‘Mohammedan’ blue from the West, which entered China through Turfan. This last type of blue would have been very expensive and would probably have been used only for imperial wares. It had a slight tendency to run in the glaze during firing, and so was sometimes mixed with a small amount of shizi blue to counteract this problem. It is likely that this combination of blue pigments was used to paint the current jar, which displays vibrant colour combined with excellent control. The detail of the fine outlines painted in deep blue tones effectively contrasted with the range of juxtaposed washes contained within. The glossy lustrous glaze on the jar is also characteristic of the very finest imperial wares produced during the reign, described as ‘almost wet-looking’ by R. Scott and R. Kerr in the ‘Introduction’ to the Percival David Foundation and Victoria and Albert Museum exhibition catalogue Ceramic Evolution in the Middle Ming, London, September 1994-February 1995, p. 8.
Other Examples in Collections
A small number of related jars is decorated with a similar panoply of Daoist figures is published. A Jiajing-marked jar and cover, now in the Capital Museum, Beijing with an almost identical encircling scene and decorative borders was excavated in 1955 at Baiwanzhuang, in the Haidian district of Beijing and is illustrated in the Complete Collection of Ceramic Art Unearthed in China, Vol. 1 – Beijing, Beijing, 2008, no. 157. It is notable that both the current jar and that in the collection of the Capital Museum have scrolls of lingzhi fungus around the mouth, reinforcing the wish for immortality. The excavated jar from the Capital Museum also shares with the current jar the unusual ruyi border around the foot. Three further jars of similar size and decorative scheme appear to have been published. One, formerly in the Stephen Bushell Collection was illustrated by W.C. Monkhouse in A History and Description of Chinese Porcelain, London, 1901, colour plate III, another was sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in November 1988, lot 139, and a third example from the Idemitsu Collection is illustrated in Chinese Ceramics in the Idemitsu Collection, Tokyo, 1987, no. 701. All these jars share not only the same size and main decoration, but also the same borders as the current jar. It seems probable that they were commissioned at the same time, possibly for the celebration of an imperial birthday.
The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Vol. 35, Hong Kong, 2000, pp. 104-105, no. 97. This publication calls the scene Baxian zhu Shou (The Eight Immortals offer prayers to Shoulao). Unlike the larger jars, such as the current example, the Beijing jar has a classic scroll around the neck, a ruyi band around the shoulders and a petal band around the foot. It seems probable that while the Palace Museum jar was produced in the middle of the Jiajing reign, the larger jars, such as the current example, were produced earlier in the period. The deterioration in the political situation in the latter part of the Jiajing reign, combined with the inordinately high demands placed on the Jingdezhen potters, inevitably resulted in declining standards. These jars would appear to have been made before any such decline took place.
A BLUE AND WHITE CIRCULAR BOX AND COVER, UNDERGLAZE JIAJING MARK AND OF THE PERIOD.
Of domed form, painted to the top and sides with cranes in flight amongst ruyi cloud scrolls — 6 3/8in. (16.2cm.) diam.
A RARE BLUE AND WHITE BALUSTER ‘FISH’ JAR JIAJING PERIOD (1522-1566),
The sturdily potted vase is finely painted around the body in rich tones of cobalt blue with four shaped roundels, each enclosing a large fish swimming amidst plants. Each roundel is interspersed by two Wheel of Law Buddhist emblems amongst vaporous clouds. The broad shoulder is painted with a large band of pendant ruyi heads, each enclosing a shou character. The short octagonal neck is decorated with floral medallions. 12 1/8 in. (31 cm) high
A RARE SMALL BLUE AND WHITE DOUBLE-GOURD VASE JIAJING SIX-CHARACTER MARK IN UNDERGLAZE BLUE AND OF THE PERIOD (1522-1566)
Both the lower and upper bulb are decorated with cranes in flight amidst lingzhi-shaped clouds below a blue line border at the mouth rim. 3 7/8 in. (9.9 cm.) high
A RARE MASSIVE BLUE AND WHITE FISH JAR JIAJING SIX-CHARACTER MARK IN UNDERGLAZE BLUE IN A LINE AND OF THE PERIOD (1522-1566)
The heavily potted jar has a deep rounded body that tapers towards the foot, and is boldly decorated in deep underglaze blue with two scaly, five-clawed dragons separated by large lotus plants as they stride amidst smaller lotus plants and water weeds between lappet borders. A narrow band of classic scroll encircles the slightly tapered neck, and there are two small holes in the shoulder. The reign mark is written in a rectangular cartouche pendent from the upper lappet border. 27 1/8 in. (69 cm.) diam.
A BLUE AND WHITE BALUSTER JAR JIAJING SIX-CHARACTER MARK IN UNDERGLAZE BLUE WITHIN A DOUBLE CIRCLE AND OF THE PERIOD (1522-1566)
Decorated in rich inky tones of underglaze blue with the Eight Trigrams (ba gua) within roundels supported by large ruyi-shaped clouds surrounded by cranes in flight amidst further ruyi-head clouds above a band of cash symbols at the foot 7¾ in. (19.7 cm.) high, box
RARE BLUE AND WHITE DOUBLE-GOURD VASE JIAJING SIX-CHARACTER MARK WITHIN A DOUBLE SQUARE AND OF THE PERIOD (1522-1566)
Strongly potted with a globular upper bulb and square lower section, painted in rich deep cobalt blue with a ruyi band around the neck, winged dragons among floral scrolls on the upper bulb, a classic scroll encircling the waist, on the shoulders of the lower section a floral scroll and on the lower square section sages and immortals in landscape, the base unglazed except for the recessed square which contains the mark. 12¾ in. (32 cm.) high
A BLUE AND WHITE HEXAGONAL JAR, JIAJING (1522-1566)
Painted with bamboo, prunus and pine issuing from rockwork jutting out from rolling waves, their branches growing in the form of auspcious characters, the shoulder decorated with quatrefoil cartouches of crane amongst scrolling clouds alterating with stylised lotus flowers on a inverted y-formed hatch ground, the rim with further floral panels — 9¾in. (24.8cm.) high.
A BLUE AND WHITE OVIFORM JAR, XUANDE MARK, JIAJING,
A blue and white oviform jar, Xuande mark, Jiajing painted with the ‘Three Friends’ growing from rockwork amidst breaking waves, the coiling stems forming stylised auspicious characters Fu Shou Kang Ning (‘prosperity, longevity, health and peace’), the high shoulder with a foliated scroll, with upright stiff leaves around the neck, underglaze blue six-character Xuande mark — 5 5/8in. (14.4cm.) high
A CHINESE BLUE AND WHITE OCTAGONAL BOX AND COVER JIAJING MARK AND OF THE PERIOD (1522-1566),
The cover decorated with two pheasants perched on rockwork, amongst other birds in flight and surrounded by a fruiting peach tree, a flowering peony and lingzhi plants, the sides and box painted with sprays of flowers, peach and birds in flight 30 cm. wide
BLUE AND WHITE SQUARE BOWL JIAJING UNDERGLAZE BLUE SIX-CHARACTER MARK AND OF THE PERIOD (1522-66),
The stoutly potted vessel with everted rim is decorated to the exterior of each side with two dancing figures holding various objects, all within double lines encircling the rim and the foot, the well of the interior is similarly decorated. 3¾ in. (9.6 cm.) wide
Fine Jiajing Period Blue and White Auspicious Symbol Plate, with Crane Border