White Monochrome Bell

Chongzhen period (1628 – 1644)

Height without stand: 7 ¾ inches (20.8 cm)

Bells are exceptionally rare in Chinese porcelain; indeed this very finely potted white example from the Chongzhen period would appear to be unique. It is glazed both inside and out, revealing the unglazed body only at the petal-shaped edge.

With a skilful and confident hand the body has been incised while still ‘leather- hard’ with an anhua (‘hidden’) design. The clear glaze running into the incisions reveals three large floral roundels amongst small clouds and foliage, all nestled between further incised bands of flower and wave pattern.

The flowers in the roundels are difficult to identify; on their own we may class the blooms as lotus but the leaves and buds point more towards peony. Perhaps, deliberately
or unwittingly, the artist has made an object suitable for all markets: for Buddhists, for whom a lotus is a symbol of purity, for Daoists, for whom the peony is a symbol of nature’s beauty, and for Confucianists, for whom ‘music was a manifestation of virtue and one of the pillars of a properly ordered society’.

Although extremely rare, porcelain bells in blue and white, of similar form, are known from the previous Tianqi period and one is in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing.