Collections: Asian Art: Wine Jar with Fish and Aquatic Plants

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52.87.1_side1_PS9.jpg 52.87.1_view1_SL1.jpg 52.87.1_side3_PS9.jpg 52.87.1_side4_PS9.jpg 52.87.1_detail1_PS9.jpg 52.87.1_detail3_PS9.jpg 52.87.1_detail2_PS9.jpg 52.87.1_detail4_PS9.jpg 52.87.1_side2_PS9.jpg CUR.52.87.1_bottom_bw.jpg 52.87.1_view2_SL1.jpg 52.87.1_view3_SL1.jpg 52.87.1_view4_SL1.jpg

Wine Jar with Fish and Aquatic Plants

The Chinese began to produce high-quality blue-and-white porcelains in the fourteenth century, soon after they gained access to cobalt oxide pigment from the Middle East. The cobalt is painted onto the white surface of the porcelain, then covered with glaze that becomes clear when fired, creating what is referred to as "underglaze blue" decoration. Ceramics made in this manner were most popular outside of China and became one of the region's major exports.

Brooklyn's wine jar is widely considered a masterpiece of blue-and-white porcelain for the deep color of its decoration, its strong contours, and the extraordinary fit of the design of fish and water plants to its form. Unlike the designs in other fourteenth-century ceramics, the jar's decoration of fish swimming among stylized plants fills the entire surface in one unified field, leaving only a small but powerfully drawn band of crashing waves around the neck. The names of the fish form a rebus—a wordplay on a four-character phrase meaning "honest and incorruptible." While the design might exhort the jar's owner to upright action, the wine it once contained remained a powerful reminder of life's temptations.

  • Medium: Porcelain with underglaze cobalt blue decoration
  • Place Made: China
  • Dates: 14th century
  • Dynasty: Yuan Dynasty
  • Period: Yuan dynasty
  • Dimensions: 11 15/16 x 13 3/4in. (30.3 x 34.9cm)  (show scale)
  • Collections:Asian Art
  • Museum Location: This item is not on view
  • Accession Number: 52.87.1
  • Credit Line: The William E. Hutchins Collection, Bequest of Augustus S. Hutchins
  • Rights Statement: Creative Commons-BY
  • Caption: Wine Jar with Fish and Aquatic Plants, 14th century. Porcelain with underglaze cobalt blue decoration, 11 15/16 x 13 3/4in. (30.3 x 34.9cm). Brooklyn Museum, The William E. Hutchins Collection, Bequest of Augustus S. Hutchins, 52.87.1. Creative Commons-BY
  • Image: side, 52.87.1_side1_PS9.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2014
  • Catalogue Description: Oviform jar, heavy porcelain body with transparent glaze and underglaze painting in cobalt blue of four fish amid lotus blossoms and aquatic plants. Unglazed base with broad foot rim. Waves encircle the neck. Except for small firing imperfections, condition is excellent. Jingdezhen ware porcelain with underglaze cobalt blue decoration.
  • Record Completeness: Best (92%)
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Recent Comments
16:49 04/20/2011
1) The description says: The names of the fish form a rebus—a wordplay on a four-character phrase meaning "honest and incorruptible."
Can someone please provide "the names of the fish" & "the four-character phrase" in Chinese pinyin.
2) Is there any scientific explanation for why blue-and-white ceramics became "most popular outside of China" (i.e., among blue-eyed Europeans)?
By Doug White
19:39 06/5/2011
I like the fish painting.
By Omi
08:04 06/8/2011
the gentleman scholar
is upright and incorruptible:
so, you – O you
drunken fish
in the most exquisite
blue wine jar
O drunken fish
do not lead
and honorable
into temptations
of the world;
do not bring to surface
all crashing emotions
from deep within the human soul;
Oh - do not destroy the De…
O drunken fish
you must remember
disorder comes with wine;
so, we shall spare those
Imperial Mandarins the trouble
and so come run away with me
disguised as my belly
and we shall drink in the bushes
where we shall thereafter make merry
like barbarians outside the Middle Kingdom

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