A Pair of Large Blue and White Vases with Covers

Kangxi Period (1662-1722)
Reference #: P1876

Height: 23 ¾ inches (60.3 cm.)

Each heavily potted jar of baluster form with low domed cover and bud-form knop, supported on an unglazed foot-rim with flat unglazed base. Boldly painted around the body with scenes of two elegant ladies each holding a blossom and gathering on either side of a shrub-filled jardinière as a lady canopy-bearer attends to them, all in between flower-filled lappet borders and beneath a square scroll embellishing the shoulders and a band of blue-ground, lotus filled pointed panels encircling the neck, the cover with the pointed petal band repeated beneath a spiral scroll and lotus petals enclosing the knop.

These large jars represent the type of blue and white pieces that were exported by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) at the end of the seventeenth century and the beginning of the eighteenth century. The VOC had been trading with the East since the beginning of the seventeenth century and the prominent role it played in the arena of international trade with the East had a great effect on many of the markets. Its influence on the porcelain trade, however, and on the interaction of ideas between Eastern and Western artisans is arguably one of the most important. When the VOC was founded in 1602, the English East India Company had already been established for two years and Portugal was losing its monopoly of the trade routes. Although other European companies joined the business of trade with the East in the subsequent decades, the great rivalry for business and for control of the market was always between England and Holland. At the outset, the VOC was given a charter by the States-General for monopolistic trade from the Cape of Good Hope to the Magellan Straits. They were also empowered to have armed forces, build forts and conduct political talks and agreements with Asian rulers.1 Initially, the spice trade was of greatest interest to the VOC. However, in 1602 and 1604 during the war with Portugal and Spain, the Dutch captured two Portuguese ships, the San Jago and the Santa Caterina respectively, and after the successful sale of their cargoes of blue and white porcelain in Middleburg and Amsterdam the Dutch involvement in the China trade began.

The VOC was known to keep the China trade at a fast pace and to challenge the Chinese to create wares of the highest possible quality. In 1605 the company established its headquarters at Batavia on the North Coast of Java. It set up outposts throughout the East and although the Company could not trade directly with China at that time, it was successful through dealings via satellite posts in the Pescadores and, from 1624, at Formosa (present day Taiwan).3 Merchants from China would bring their wares to the Dutch agents at Formosa, who in turn would ship the pieces back to Holland via Batavia. At this time most of the imported porcelains were blue and white wares made at Jingdezhen, commonly known as kraakporselin after the ship called carraca or kraak in Dutch.4 Auctions held in Holland in 1602 and 1604 were a clear

indication of the popularity of blue and white, especially amongst the merchant class, who found the pieces sold in lots to be quite affordable. Pieces of the “Transitional” style were popular up until about 1660 when the demand for European forms and decoration increased. By the end of the seventeenth century porcelain decoration started to reflect European fashions and designs but the Dutch found that the everyday Chinese-taste blue and white wares were still the most popular and the least expensive.

At the time the present jars were made, Marot-style interiors were fashionable in Europe. While pieces decorated with European subjects or modeled in European shapes were already being ordered, the VOC found that wares decorated in the Chinese taste were in great demand. These large jars would have been displayed on a large table or atop a massive cabinet. While many jars of this size were once part of large garniture sets, these jars most likely only appeared in pairs; the particular pattern does not appear on beaker vases of the period that would have accompanied the jars in such a set.

Condition: One with filled chip on rim, on with hairline crack issuing from rim consolidated.

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