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Update: The Ming dynasty reserve decorated peony dish sold for $2.1 million.

What you see: An exceptionally rare and large fine blue-and-white reserve decorated peony dish, estimated at $1 million to $1.5 million.

When was the Xuande Period? It lasted from 1426 to 1435. Though it was brief, it was a productive and important period for Ming dynasty porcelain. “Everything came together,” says Angela McAteer, vice president and head of Sotheby’s Chinese works of art department. “There was widespread use of the imperial reign mark, the dragon became symbolic of the court, and the court really took control of the kiln production,” she says, explaining that it focused the Chinese porcelain works on its own needs rather than creating its greatest prizes as diplomatic gifts.

How was this Peony dish made? With skill and difficulty. “In this period, even firing something of this elegance, form, and size is challenging,” says McAteer, who notes how “well-potted” it is. “Getting a uniformity to the blue color is a challenge. Getting a realistic, crisp outline on the floral decorations is a challenge. There were various points where they could have been tripped up in making something like this.”

What makes the dish exceptionally rare? Only three others like it are known. As visually striking as its reserve decoration is–rendering in blue what would normally be in white, and vice-versa–it was technically difficult and far more expensive to make. “Cost is primarily the thing. It involved more layers of production, and more steps,” McAteer says, stating that the cobalt needed for the blue color probably was imported. “It’s a large dish, and the cobalt covers the inside and the outside. It would have required a huge amount of raw material.”

Was the dish ever used? “Absolutely, it would have been used to furnish the court, presumably for banqueting,” says McAteer, while adding that we cannot be sure of exactly how the Chinese court used it. Its most recent European owner refrained from putting it to work. “It has a wonderful, brilliant glaze that is remarkably unscuffed,” she says. “It would have had a wall mount. That’s why it’s so wonderfully well-preserved. It wasn’t used to hold keys.”

How to bid: The peony dish is lot 6 in the Ming: The Intervention of Imperial Taste auction at Sotheby’s New York on March 14, 2017.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.