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Vietnamese Dragon-decorated
White Ceramic Bowl

Diameter: 12.7 cm. (5 in.)
Height: 7.0 cm. (2 3/4 in.)

Later Le dynasty
15th century


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



The thin delicate walls of the deep bowl, produced from a refined white stoneware clay and supported on a slightly incurved high foot, ascend in a gentle curve to a gracefully everted rim. The decoration on the interior consists of two dragons skillfully molded in relatively high relief sailing through the firmament around a central raised six-petaled floret. The outstretched sinuous bodies with their arched necks and swinging tails, all massed with scales, are given further dynamism by flame-like manes flowing above the spines. The dragons are propelled forward by clearly articulated four-clawed feet against a sky dotted with floating wisps of clouds.

Frequent tribute and commercial missions between China and her southern neighbor provided the Vietnamese with access to Chinese white wares primarily from Jiangxi, Guangdong, and Fujian provinces. The particular influence of Jingdezhen’s “southern Ding” and shufu-type wares current during the 14th-century Yuan dynasty are clearly evident in the present bowl, while its soulmates were the otherworldly white wares of the early 15th-century Ming dynasty Yongle reign period.

The Mongol court in China was a recipient of Vietnamese white ceramic bowls sent to Beijing as gifts or tribute, an association between Vietnam and China that continued to obtain between the Ly and Ming dynasties during the 15th century. A white Vietnamese bowl produced at that time and closely related to the present stylistically, albeit with phoenix motifs in place of the dragons here, is thought to have been tribute from Vietnamese royalty to the Ming imperial court and speaks to the considerable regard in which the tribute ware was held.

The present bowl was found in Sulawesi several decades ago and held dear by a dealer in Jakarta until recent times when it was brought to Japan where Kaikodo acquired it. Several similar white bowls with molded floral décor were retrieved from the cargo of a sunken vessel discovered near Cu Lao Cham island, near the coastal market town of Hoi-an, and a symbol today of Vietnam’s period of great international trade in the 15th and 16th centuries.


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