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Large Brown-glazed Chaozhou Dish
with Dragon Décor

Diameter: 45.2 cm. (17 3/4 in.)
Height: 10.2 cm. (4 in.)

Late Ming dynasty
Early 17th century


(NOTE: Further information is provided below the detailed images.)



The quite enormous yet shallow dish is the venue for a luminous caramel-colored glaze overall with two serpentine dragons in pearly white porcelain-clay slip on the interior. They snake through a cloudy firmament—or is it a foamy sea?—chasing pearls or are they spewing them?—dragons are elusive. The cavetto surrounding these creatures is draped with a festoon comprised of flaming pearls flanked by swiftly painted vine scrolls. Sandy grit adheres to the glaze on the recessed base as well as to the area around the unglazed foot rim.

The present dish represents one of several decorative techniques used by potters working around Zhangzhou in southern Fujian province during the 16th and 17th centuries that included underglaze-cobalt blue, polychrome enamel, monochrome powder blue and caramel brown both with white slip decor, and lead-glazed earthenwares. The present caramel-colored ceramic type was not produced as numerously as some of the other specialties but it was made alongside them as remains at the major kiln site, in Pinghexian, demonstrates.1

This ware with its signature coarse potting, its vibrant spontaneous décor, its unstudied, dynamic, muscular aura struck the fancy of clients in the Middle East (at least six like the present dish are recorded in the Topkapi Saray in Istanbul) and especially to those in Southeast Asia (the recipient mainly of the underglaze blue and overglaze-enameled wares), and Japan, for whom smaller specialized shapes were also produced. In that regard, the situation is somewhat like that of kosometsuke wherein imperfections and feelings of naturalness and spontaneity were deeply appreciated and then the ceramics were tweaked and developed to suit the prevailing tea taste. However, the large more flamboyant platters or dishes also had a place in Japanese society as display pieces in wealthy mercantile households or even as tableware in certain dining establishments. Even today, the Japanese are among the most fervent advocates of the ware and quite extraordinary collections of Zhangzhou ware can be found in Japan today, which was, in fact, the source of the present piece.


1. See Zhangzhou yao (“The Zhangzhou kilns”), Fuzhou, 1997, pl. 9:1.


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