An important and extremely rare wucai fish bowl Longqing six-character mark and of the period
Lot 216
An important and extremely rare wucai fish bowl
Longqing six-character mark and of the period
Sold for £602,500 (US$ 907,689) inc. premium

Lot Details
An important and extremely rare wucai fish bowl Longqing six-character mark and of the period An important and extremely rare wucai fish bowl Longqing six-character mark and of the period An important and extremely rare wucai fish bowl Longqing six-character mark and of the period An important and extremely rare wucai fish bowl Longqing six-character mark and of the period An important and extremely rare wucai fish bowl Longqing six-character mark and of the period
An important and extremely rare wucai fish bowl
Longqing six-character mark and of the period
The sturdily potted sides gently rounded and painted in bright underglaze blue and skilfully enamelled in soft shades of green, ochre and iron-red with a continuous scene of lotus flowers, pods and leaves and clumps of rushes growing from the rippling waters of a lake, providing a home for birds variously swimming and flying above, including pairs of geese and mandarin ducks, and three crested egrets standing on a grassy promontory, all below a continuous foliate meander issuing lingzhi fungus at the rim and above blue lappets at the foot, the six-character mark painted in underglaze blue on the inside of the rim, wood stand. 57.2cm (22½in) diam. (2).


  • 明隆慶 五彩蓮池水禽紋缸 青花「大明隆慶年造」楷書款

    Provenance: a distinguished European private collection


    A Personal Note from the Collector

    The decision to finally part with our most prized piece has taken an 'incubation' period of more than a full year.

    The long possession since 1978 of the wucai fish bowl from the Longqing period (1567-1572) has made the fish bowl on its stand part of our entertainment and household. Without realising it the artful execution of the bowl crept into our house...

    This whole involvement with this extremely rare fish bowl was enhanced by our visit during the 1980s to the Sir Percival David Foundation in London (now in the British Museum), where an almost identical fish bowl was exhibited. The design of the ducks, fauna and flora on the Percival David bowl is very similar or almost identical. As the diameter of our bowl is slightly larger, the overall scenery looks more elegant and intimate. In short, if we had to choose between the two, quality wise, we would prefer ours...

    This statement explains maybe again how deeply we foster the Longqing bowl in our hearts. However, beauty should, at the end, be admired. Having come near the end of our lives, we do wish to share our long-term pleasures with the future new owners, be it in a favourite collection, be it in another museum in the world, where the intense admiration for the Chinese potter's art can be multi-fold and perennial.

    The present fish bowl is important as it is one of apparently only six known to exist. It appears to be the largest of the six. The other examples are now all in museum collections as follows:

    1. The Sir Percival David Foundation at the British Museum, London, 55.2cm diam. (PDF 778), which was acquired from Yamanaka in 1931, illustrated by R.Scott, Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, London, 1989, p.86, pl.80;

    2. The National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, (A.1919.406), which entered the Museum collection in 1919;

    3. The State Museum of Oriental Art, Moscow.

    4. The Hatakeyama Kinenkan Museum, Tokyo, illustrated by R.Fujioka and G.Hasebe, Ceramic Art of the World - Ming Dynasty, vol.14, Tokyo, 1976, p.201, pl.202 and by Geng Baochang, Ming Qing ciqi jianding, Hong Kong, 1993, p.500, pl.69;

    5. The Umezawa Kinenkan Museum, Tokyo, illustrated in Mayuyama, Seventy Years, vol.I, Tokyo, 1976, p.292, pl.877.

    This important fish bowl, whilst known to a very small number of Chinese art enthusiasts, has been discreetly kept in a distinguished European private collection until now. It was acquired by the present owners from a family friend in 1978, though it was known to them as early as the 1960s.

    As all other known examples are now in museum collections, this is the first opportunity and possibly the only one to acquire one of the most important and impressive examples of porcelain dating to the very brief reign of the Longqing emperor.

    The vibrancy of the enamels is particularly noteworthy and demonstrates the successful firing of the enamels, whilst the deep violet underglaze cobalt blue is a striking example of this period and follows from the deep blue of the Jiajing period. This is evident when comparing the enamels of the present bowl to the important fish bowl in the Percival David Foundation collection at the British Museum. It is also interesting to note that the slightly larger diameter of the present bowl allowed the craftsman a larger 'canvas' upon which to illustrate the design, resulting in very pleasing and successful spacing.

    Imperial records note severe flooding and earthquakes in Jingdezhen in the area around the imperial kiln in the late 1560s. In 1571 the kilns were devastated by fire. These elements caused significant disruption to porcelain manufacture at the time. Furthermore, the impressive size of the present fish bowl would have made it difficult to fire and consequently very costly. In 1571 the Jingdezhen censor Xu Shi (1519-81) requested that the large Imperial order recently sent should be reduced by 80 percent. He specifically asked that the large fish bowls should be entirely removed from the order as they were particularly difficult to fire. Indeed, R.L.Hobson in The Wares of the Ming Dynasty, London, 1923, p.110, notes 'To build up in porcelain and fire successfully the large fish bowls was one of the most difficult problems which the Imperial potters had to face'.

    Jessica Harrison-Hall notes in the Catalogue of Late Yuan and Ming Ceramics in the British Museum, London, 2001, p.268: 'Items with Longqing reign marks are particularly valuable for dating as the reign period was so short. Few ceramics were produced compared to the years sandwiching it'.

    The Longqing Emperor (b.1537- d.1572), succeeded the Jiajing Emperor in 1567, inheriting a country in disarray. He set out to reform and improve the governance by employing talented officials and purging those deemed corrupt. He recreated a structure of international trade, fortified seaports in Zhejiang and Fujian provinces against pirate raids, and repelled a Mongol army which breached the Great Wall. However, though considered to be one of the more liberal-minded Ming emperors, the Lonqing Emperor eventually became more interested in pursuing personal enjoyment and his six-year reign did not stem the continuing decline. He was succeeded by his 10 year-old son, the Wanli Emperor.

    The fish bowl employs the wucai colour design with underglaze blue and overglaze enamels in iron-red, green and yellow. In its design it is an evolution of the design formulated in the Jiajing period, demonstrating however a more skilful use of the surface and spacing illustrating groups of Mandarin ducks, egrets, geese and swallows in flight (see for example a blue and white fish bowl, Jiajing mark and period, sold at Christie's New York, 27 November 1991, lot 329). Design on fish bowls of the subsequent Wanli period would appear to emulate the bold Jiajing prototypes and appear to lack the elegance attained during the Longqing period (see for example a wucai fish bowl, Wanli mark and period, sold at Christie's New York, 15-16 September 2011, lot 1483).

    Ducks depicted with lotus symbolise a harmonious conjugal relationship. Geese, similarly to Mandarin ducks were believed to mate for life and therefore also symbolised peace and prosperity in addition to marital fidelity. Egrets amidst lotus represent the Confucian ideal of a virtuous official. The latter would have been deemed particularly apt given the Longqing Emperor's attempt to reform the governance and purge corruption.







    1.英國倫敦大英博物館大衛德基金會,直徑55.2cm (編號PDF 778)。1931年得於日本山中商會,見R.Scott編《Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art》,倫敦,1989年,頁86,圖版80;

    2.英國愛丁堡 蘇格蘭國家博物館,(編號A.1919.406),1919年為博物館所收藏;


    4.日本東京畠山記念館,見R.Fujioka and G.Hasebe編《Ceramic Art of the World - Ming Dynasty》,第14冊,東京,1976年,頁201,圖版202;及耿寶昌編《明清瓷器鑑定》,香港,1993年,頁500,圖版69;

    5.日本東京梅澤紀念館,見《Mayuyama, Seventy Years》,第1冊,東京,1976年,頁292,圖版877。




    根據宮廷記載,1560年代晚期,景德鎮御窯廠附近一帶曾遭遇嚴重的水災及地震。到了1571年,窯廠因為火災而遭受摧毀,種種原因令到當時的官窯瓷幾乎處於停頓狀態。除此之外,要成功燒製像這一件大尺寸的缸難度非常高而且也十分昂貴。1571年景德鎮的監官曾要求宮廷減低燒製大器百分之八十。他也特別要求停燒大缸,因為燒製難度極高。R.L.Hobson曾在他的著作中提出要成功製造及燒製出大尺寸的魚缸是御窯廠要面對的其中一項最大的難題,見《The Wares of the Ming Dynasty》,倫敦,1923年,頁110。

    Jessica Harrison-Hall認為隆慶一朝僅存六年,相對於其他時期如嘉靖與萬曆,傳世瓷器較少,所以有隆慶年款的器物殊為少見,十分珍貴,可參見《Catalogue of Late Yuan and Ming Ceramics in the British Museum》,倫敦,2001年,頁268。



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  1. Olivia Hamilton
    Specialist - Chinese Works of Art
    580 Madison Avenue
    New York, United States 10022
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  2. Asaph Hyman
    Specialist - Chinese Works of Art
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