A fine blue and white sleeve vase Circa 1640
Lot 364
A fine blue and white sleeve vase Circa 1640
Sold for £90,000 (US$ 151,183) inc. premium
Auction Details
A fine blue and white sleeve vase Circa 1640 A fine blue and white sleeve vase Circa 1640
Lot Details
A fine blue and white sleeve vase
Circa 1640
The slender cylindrical body finely painted in rich tones of cobalt blue depicting four legendary characters from the classic novel 'The Water Margin', each figure with their name and nickname inscribed to one side, amidst rocky outcrops and swirling clouds, with mountain peaks in the background, enclosed by incised borders at the shoulder and foot, the waisted neck with a band of pendent lappets.
45.1cm (17¾in) high


  • Provenance: purchased in Amsterdam in the early 1980s
    Ove Stenbeck Collection, no.42

    Exhibited: Den Befriade Penseln. 300 År av Kinesiskt Porslin och Konsthantverk. Collection Stenbeck, Heinola, Finland, 4 June - 3 September 2000

    The figures are identified by their inscriptions as four of the 108 Liangshan heroes from the novel 'The Water Margin', Shuihu zhuan. They are Tao Zongwang, known as 'Nine-tailed turtle'; Suo Chao, 'Impatient Vanguard'; Xie Bao, 'Two-tailed scorpion'; and Xiao Rang, nicknamed 'Scholar with the Sacred Hand'.

    The fourteenth century semi-historical novel 'The Water Margin' is loosely based on the lives of Song Dynasty historical outlaws Song Jiang and his companions. Illustrated woodblock print editions of the novel are believed to have been published from the mid-16th century onwards and became a popular source of decoration on porcelain during the Transitional period. It has been suggested that the popularity of the Water Margin outlaws in print and as a decorative motif lay in the turbulent political situation of the time, with bands of outlaws wreaking havoc across China as the Ming Dynasty crumbled. The glorification of the outlaws and their relevance to the unstable situation at the time were enough for the Chongzhen Emperor to forbid its reprinting in 1642, see J.B.Curtis, Chinese Porcelains of the Seventeenth Century. Landscapes, Scholar's Motifs and Narratives, New York, 1995, p.29.

    Given the controversial nature of the novel by the 1640s, some examples of blue and white porcelain painted with scenes taken from the novel attempt to make subtle, covert suggestions as to their source. See a brush pot illustrated in ibid, Catalogue no.56 which has omitted the figure of the hero Wang Qing seen on the original woodblock print. The current vase makes no such attempts to disguise its seditious source, with the names and nicknames of the outlaws proudly displayed beside them. This therefore suggests that the vase was produced prior to 1642.

    Other examples of Chongzhen period porcelain painted with figures or scenes taken from the novel include a very similar rolwagen, with the four characters identified by name, sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 7 July 2003, lot 653; and a waisted vase painted with four of the bandits sold at Christie's Amsterdam, 30 June 2010, lot 224. A jar painted with a scene from the novel in the Phoenix Art Museum is illustrated by S.Little, Chinese Ceramics of the Transitional Period: 1620-1683, New York, 1984, Catalogue no.16.

    The term 'rolwagen', which means nothing in 17th century Dutch, has recently been considered by C.Sheaf, Reflections on Transitional Blue and White, Arts of Asia, Vol.39, Issue 1, Jan-Feb 2009, pp.91-99. The author proposes that with the introduction of these splendid simple cylindrical vases, designed to be viewed around by rolling them, a simple hand-writing mistake in the letter 's' in a VOC ledger recording the purchase of 'rolvasen' (vases which rotated for viewing) was crystallised into the meaningless name 'rolwagen' by which collectors now know these.
  1. Asaph Hyman
    Specialist - Chinese Works of Art
    101 New Bond Street
    London, W1S 1SR
    United Kingdom
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