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Wine Jar with Fish and Aquatic Plants

Asian Art

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)
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
    CREDIT LINE The William E. Hutchins Collection, Bequest of Augustus S. Hutchins
    RIGHTS STATEMENT Creative Commons-BY
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    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
    "CUR" at the beginning of an image file name means that the image was created by a curatorial staff member. These study images may be digital point-and-shoot photographs, when we don\'t yet have high-quality studio photography, or they may be scans of older negatives, slides, or photographic prints, providing historical documentation of the object.
    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.
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