Chinese Porcelains from the Ardebil Shrine

Chinese Porcelains from the Ardebil Shrine

Chinese Porcelains from the Ardebil Shrine

Chinese Porcelains from the Ardebil Shrine

Excerpt

That only a very few pieces in the Ardebil Collection may be assigned to the last third of the century is not surprising for the same situation exists in all known collections of Chinese ceramics. The reason for this is not understood, but the output of these three decades was evidently smaller than in any other equal period in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Indeed a survey of the blue-and-white made in the Ch'eng-hua and Hung-chih reigns and marked with the nien-hao reveals that only some 30-odd pieces are known from the former while those from the latter number less than a dozen. Inasmuch as the attribution of unmarked pieces is materially assisted by the availability of a body of marked wares which serve as standards, the proper documentation of these two reigns presents certain problems. This is all the more regrettable because, to judge from those wares we know, it was a period of particular interest. The Chinese themselves ranked the wares of Ch'eng-hua second only to those of Hsiian-te, mostly it seems because tradition held that in the latter reign the potteries were deprived of the imported cobalt which had produced the rich dark blues they so greatly admired. From the vantage point of our own time with some four centuries of perspective to temper our view we may feel this is merely a question of taste for some connoisseurs today prefer the unparalleled delicacy of the Ch'eng-hua wares in spite of the sometimes paler shades of blue with which they are decorated, though it would be hard to say if the esteem in which they are now held is not in some degree enhanced by their rarity. Be that as it may, for sheer perfection in every detail, the best blue-and-white wares of Ch'eng-hua stand in a class by themselves. And even the small handful of fine examples in the Ardebil Collection, for all that they may be called "export wares," amply support this view.

Before turning to the pieces themselves a word about the general style of the period may be in order. The refinement which was noted as the principal characteristic of the early fifteenth century, in comparing those wares with their predecessors, was carried forward to its highest point in the two decades of the Ch'eng-hua reign, nor was there any serious falling off as the century drew to a close. Never was the hand of the Ming potter more controlled or that of the Ming painter more sure. At their best these are the most sensitively potted wares the dynasty produced, and in a the 276 years of Ming rule no porcelains were decorated with greater delicacy and finesse than these. If the earlier wares are admired for the superior strength of their potting and the vigor of their decoration, these later wares bespeak no less admiration for their supreme purity and elegance. It was a point in the history of the potter's art whence there was nowhere to go but down, and the decline in quality that marks the . . .

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