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A Fahua Eight-Immortals Porcelain Jar

Height: 32.5 cm. (12.8 in.)
Diameter: 32.7 cm. (12.9 in.)

Ming dynasty
Late-15th century

Provenance: A Japanese collection

The heavily potted jar is a high-shouldered ovoid form, the constricted neck curving outward to the thickened mouth rim, the lower walls narrowing dramatically to the thick foot enclosing the recessed base. The decoration consists of detached ruyi heads on the neck, quatrefoil clouds on the shoulder, a procession of eight figures through a cloud-filled sky in the main body zone and contiguous upright ogival panels forming a fence around the base. The figures identifiable through the attributes they carry are a female with a lotus [He Xiangu], a male with a fan [Zhongli Quan], another with a gourd [Li Tieguai], one holding a sword [Lü Dongbin ], another possibly a jade tablet [Cao Guojiu]. The motifs were outlined and detailed with raised strings of slip applied as descriptive outlines and further slip dashes and dots as details. The outlines were designed to hold the applied turquoise, yellow, aubergine, and white alkaline glazes in place and to keep the dark cobalt blue of the background at bay. The faces, along with all other exposed skin of the figures, were reserved through wax resist, resulting in the buff color of the fired clay simulating natural flesh tones. The interior of the vessel is coated in a dark green glaze while the thick foot and recessed base are unglazed exposing the sturdy porcelain body.

The term fahua, literally “ruled design,” is the name for ceramics produced, as the present vessel, by way of an extraordinary technique in which raised strings of slip trailed on the clay body before firing outlined motifs that were then brought to life through the application of colored alkaline glazes. The idea of forming cells with raised “wires” of clay to hold the glazes and keep the colors separated follows the lead of metalware cloisonné in which metal wires were soldered to the metal base to form the cloisons to hold the enamels, or glass paste, where desired. The term fahua was likely coined after that used in China when discussing the source of cloisonné enameled metal wares: falang, or Folang, referring to “Frankish Lands,” or the Occident where the technique originated.

The extra-terrestrial figures, airborne amongst clouds, were popular subjects on fahua ceramics, the perfect dressing for the large guan jars which were fashionable as storage jars, perhaps for wine, and as decorative accoutrement as well. While the majority of the figures are identifiable, the others are more reticent, hiding their identities within their sleeves or just out of sight. Their number “eight,” however, suggests that the traditional Daoist assemblage was the intention of the decorators.


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