Small, Broad-Shouldered Jar With Decoration Of The Eight Buddhist Treasures ('babao') Amidst Scrolling Lotus Decor
main shot © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
1979.444
Title
Small, Broad-Shouldered Jar with Decoration of the Eight Buddhist Treasures ('Babao') Amidst Scrolling Lotus Decor
Other Titles
Alternate Title: Cheng hua dou cai guan
Classification
Vessels
Work Type
vessel
Date
probably late Chenghua period, 1481-1487
Places
Creation Place: East Asia, China, Jiangxi province, Jingdezhen
Period
Ming dynasty, 1368-1644
Culture
Chinese
Physical Descriptions
Medium
Enameled ware, "doucai" type: porcelain with decoration painted in underglaze cobalt blue and overglaze green and yellow enamels; with underglaze cobalt blue mark reading "Tian" (Heaven) on the base
Technique
Overglaze enamel
Dimensions
H. 9.0 x Diam. 10.6 cm (3 9/16 x 4 3/16 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • Signed: Imperial mark on base: Tian
  • inscription: underside of jar, center, underglaze cobalt blue, brush-written, Chinese: 'Tian'
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Bequest of Walter and Ella Siple
Accession Year
1979
Object Number
1979.444
Division
Asian and Mediterranean Art
Contact
am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu
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Descriptions

Label Text: Streams and Mountains without End: Landscape Paintings from China, Korea, and Japan , written 2000
When it entered the collections in 1979, the Small, Broad-Shouldered Jar with Decoration of the Eight Buddhist Treasures (displayed in the adjacent case) was assumed to have been made in the eighteenth century, perhaps during the Yongzheng reign (1723–1735) of the Qing dynasty (1644–1911). The fine painting in doucai technique—decoration painted in bright overglaze-enamel colors within underglaze cobalt-blue outlines—immediately linked this jar to the celebrated doucai porcelains made during the Chenghua reign (1465–1487) of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), as did the mark reading Tian inscribed on its base. However, the lack of a single Chenghua-period example with identical decoration—even in the former Chinese imperial collection—made suspect any attempt to attribute this jar to the fifteenth century, despite its obvious visual links to porcelains of that era. Thus, in the absence of identical Chenghua pieces, the jar was assumed to be an eighteenth-century copy of a now-lost original. That eighteenth-century attribution endured until very recently.
In 1999, careful study of this jar alongside photographs of a virtually identical, Chenghua-period, doucai jar reassembled from sherds recently excavated in the Zhushan area of Jingdezhen (in Jiangxi province)—the home of the imperial kilns during the Ming and Qing dynasties—suggested that this jar should be reattributed to the Chenghua period. In June 2000, firsthand examination of the excavated sherds at Jingdezhen confirmed this major, upward reattribution. With its official reattribution to the Chenghua period, this rather unassuming jar has instantly risen to the status of a National Treasure.
Fewer than fifty doucai-enameled porcelains from the Chenghua reign are known worldwide; wares of this type are not only extremely rare, they are considered the most desirable of all Chinese porcelains. Moreover, doucai-enameled jars with the single-character, underglaze cobalt-blue Tian (Heaven) mark (instead of the usual six-character imperial reign mark) are regarded as the very best of all Chenghua porcelains. Of the twelve intact small doucai jars of this type known to have survived worldwide, this is the only one in the United States. Because this jar is the sole example with this pattern known to have survived intact aboveground, it is, in fact, the rarest of the rare.

Publication History

Christopher Reed, "Wrong!", Harvard Magazine (Cambridge, MA, September 2004-October 2004), vol. 107, no. 1, pp. 40-51, p. 45 (full view and detail)

Exhibition History

A Decade of Collecting: Asian Acquisitions 1990-1999, Harvard University Art Museums, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 03/11/2000 - 11/05/2000

Streams and Mountains without End: Landscape Paintings from China, Korea, and Japan, Harvard University Art Museums, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 11/25/2000 - 08/26/2001

Plum, Orchid, Chrysanthemum, and Bamboo: Botanical Motifs and Symbols in East Asian Painting, Harvard University Art Museums, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 07/06/2002 - 01/05/2003

Downtime, Harvard University Art Museums, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 04/28/2007 - 04/20/2008

Re-View: S228-230 Arts of Asia, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 05/31/2008 - 11/23/2008

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu