Porcelain painted in underglaze blue; H. 19 in. (48.3 cm)
Gift of Robert E. Tod, 1937 (37.191.1)
The porcelains of the Ming dynasty have attained such recognition in the West that "Ming" has become almost generic for anything ceramic fabricated in China before the twentieth century. While, unhappily, many of the pieces called Ming have no possible claim to that attribution, the porcelains that were produced during the period are among the most beautiful and exciting to emerge from China's kilns. Because the kilns at Jingdezhen and the surrounding area of Jiangxi Province became paramount during the Ming era, overshadowing all other manufacturing centers, our attention focuses primarily on wares from these kilns from this time onward.
In many respects, the blue and white porcelains of the early fifteenth century exemplify these wares at their apogee. They combine the freedom and energy of a newly ripened art form with the sophistication of concept and mastery of execution that come with maturity. The highest traditions of early Ming-dynasty brushwork are represented in the bristling dragon on this marvelous jar. His dorsal fins are like the teeth of a buzz saw, his claws have a strong bone structure, and he moves around the jar with total power yet consummate grace. Flanked by the heads of fearsome monsters is an inscription with the reign title of the incumbent emperor, Xuande. Reign marks became popular during the Xuande era (142635) and were used continuously after that time.