OBJECT OF THE MONTH - JULY

Lidded vase in underglaze red, from the tomb of Princess Ancheng (1384–1443), daughter of the Yongle Emperor, Nanjing Museum.

Lidded vase in underglaze red, from the tomb of Princess Ancheng (1384–1443), daughter of the Yongle Emperor, Nanjing Museum.

A Ming national treasure tours in Spain for the first time

This national treasure is a meiping (plum vase) jar that was excavated from the tomb of Princess Ancheng (1384–1443) in March 1957, in the Jiangning country, Jiangsu province. Princess Ancheng was the daughter of Zhu Di, the Yongle emperor who reigned from 1402–1424.

Porcelains were among the most influential objects to have been produced for the imperial court during the Ming dynasty. The materials, decoration and colour of these objects were of the finest quality, with motifs and symbols representing strength, authority and power as the main designs. Imperial porcelains were exclusively produced at the imperial factory kilns at Jingdezhen, northern Jiangxi province.

Red decoration was very fashionable during the early Ming dynasty and was achieved by painting the vase with copper oxide. Achieving a true colour required great technical skill during the firing process and was difficult to produce. The increased use of red decoration was partly due to restrictions on foreign trade imposed by the first Ming emperor, reducing the import of cobalt, the pigment used for blue decoration.

According to ancient custom during the Ming dynasty, the dead were buried with vessels associated with food and drink for use in the afterlife. This vase in particular would have traditionally been used for wine and is exceptionally rare as both the jar and its lid have survived. The main decoration features pines, bamboo and plum blossom, which was a popular theme in Chinese art and was known as the sui han san you - ‘three friends of the cold season’. It was understood as an emblem for renewal and perseverance, and was often associated with the New Year festival. Other decorative elements include lotus flowers, waves, chrysanthemums, grasses and banana leaves.

SEE THIS BEAUTIFUL PORCELAIN MEIPING VASE THAT IS CURRENTLY ON DISPLAY IN OUR MAJOR TOURING EXHIBITION MING: THE GOLDEN EMPIRE EXHIBITION AT CAIXAFORUM BARCELONA UNTIL 2 OCTOBER 2016. 

David Roberts