The thick walls of the deep bowl rise with a gentle bend from a narrow, incurved. rounded ring foot to a slightly thickened lip rim. The thick glaze covers all but a wide donut-shaped area on the recessed base where the bowl was supported on a ring during firing and where the light grey stoneware exhibits a glistening surface with reddish ferruginous patches from firing. The sea-foam green glaze is thick and semi-translucent, the surface smooth with a luminescent sheen. Just visible beneath the glaze in the well is an impressed, intaglio floral image, intentionally obscured beneath the glaze to create a mysterious anhua, or “hidden decoration.”
When a treasured Song-dynasty Longquan celadon bowl that had suffered damage was returned to Ming China by its owner, Yoshimasu, the eighth Ashikaga shogun (1435-1490), requesting a replacement, the Japanese envoy was told that that was impossible. Such bowls simply could no longer be made. The Song vessel then was returned having been repaired with some unsightly metal clamps that, however, the Japanese quite liked. The dark metal fasteners conjured images of locusts, and hence, the name Bakohan, “Locust Clamp,” and the eventual elevation to its status as a kokuhō, “National Treasure” (fig. 1).
The present type of bowl is as close as the Longquan potters of the early Ming would get to such illustrious Song antecedents. And it appears such early Ming wares found a place in the hearts, homes, and establishments of the Japanese. A bowl among many similar to the present that didn’t quite make it to the intended destination was recovered from the waters off Wakayama City (fig. 2).
While under early Ming imperial patronage, during the Hongwu and Yongle eras, the products, as demonstrated by finds at the Dayao Fengdongyan kiln, include the large-scale vessels that were especially popular in the Middle East, as well as bottles, vases and bowls more easily suitable for use at the Chinese court and among the Chinese aristocracy. Numerous bowls have been recovered during excavations of the early Ming kilns, considered official or “imperial” because of orders and supervision from the court and remains with imperial reign marks.2 A number of kiln-site finds accord well with the present stylistically and technically, for example those illustrated below (figs. 3-6). Among the vast later Chinese ceramic holdings of the National Palace Museum in Taipei are a good number of bowls from the early Ming Longquan kiln sites, including those that the present bowl mirrors precisely (fig. 7-8).
A note has been made of the similarities between shape and décor of Jingdezhen and Longquan ceramics at this time, the two kilns in competition with each other for domestic and foreign markets and adopting from one another what were popular and saleable styles. And each kiln shaped its output in accord with tastes and requirements of their imperial patrons. The characteristics shared in response to the expectations and requirements of their imperial patron of the early 15th century included simple, refined shapes, perfect glazes, and subtle anhua décor in some products. The feather-like lightness and translucency of the thin-walled porcelains, however, were replaced by the substantial weight, opacity and jadelike presence of the celadons.
1.The Hongwu emperor (r. 1368-1398) ordered these wares in 1393 and a court-appointed eunuch was still overseeing the production of celadons for imperial use in 1464. See Mei-fen Tsai, ed., Bilu: Mingdai longquanyao qingci, (“Green—Longquan Celadon of the Ming Dynasty”), National Palace Museum, Taipei, 2009, p. 22. Evidence is also present in kiln site finds, most importantly damaged vessels or shards bearing imperial reign marks of the early Ming period.
Fig. 1: Longquan celadon bowl named Bakohan, “Locust Clamp,” (Song dynasty, 12th-13th century, Tokyo National Museum, after http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2020-05/18/c_139065638.htm
Fig. 2: Longquan celadon bowl, early Ming period, late 14th-early 15th century, found off-shore near Wakayama City, after Nihon shutsudo no Chūgoku Tōji (“Chinese Ceramics Excavated in Japan”), Tokyo, 1978, no. 278-1 and 278-2, p. 80.
Figs. 3: Longquan celadon bowl, Yongle period official ware, excavated at the Dayao Fengdongyan kiln, after Degawa Tetsuro, et.al., The Flower of Jade Green-Longquan Celadon of the Ming Dynasty: Recent Archaeological Findings of the Dayao Fengdongyan Kiln Site, Osaka, 2011, no. 23, p. 62 (bottom).
Fig. 4: Longquan celadon bowl, Yongle period official email@example.com, excavated at the Dayao Fengdongyan kiln, after Degawa Tetsuro, et.al., The Flower of Jade Green-Longquan Celadon of the Ming Dynasty: Recent Archaeological Findings of the Dayao Fengdongyan Kiln Site, Osaka, 2011, no. 23, p. 62 (top); view of the base.
Fig. 5: Longquan celadon bowl, Ming dynasty, “official” kiln-site find, after Faxian: Daming Chuzhou Longquan Guanyao, Hangzhou, 2005. no. 257-1.
Fig. 6: Longquan celadon bowl, Ming dynasty, “official” kiln-site find, after Faxian: Daming Chuzhou Longquan Guanyao, Hangzhou, 2005. no. 257 2-3, the base and interior.
Fig. 7: Longquan celadon bowl, early Ming period, late 14th-early 15th century, National Palace Museum, Taipei, after Mei-fen Tsai, ed., Green-Lungquan Celadon of the Ming Dynasty, Taipei, 2009, no. 5, p. 33 (top.).
Fig. 8: Longquan celadon bowl, early Ming period, late 14th-early 15th century, National Palace Museum, Taipei, after Mei-fen Tsai, ed., Green-Lungquan Celadon of the Ming Dynasty, Taipei, 2009, no. 5, p. 32 (top), view of the base.