Item #M1


Blue and white porcelain hexagonal cup measuring 3 cm. in height, 4.7 cm. diameter at the lip, and a 2.2 cm. diameter footrim. Average .2 cm. potting.

Decoration in underglaze blue of 6 horses at play.

...Hua  (Reign last name)

....Nien (year)

....Chih   (made)



....Ta      (Great)

....Ming  (Dynasty)

....Ch'eng (Reign 1st name)

Figure 1

Imported Cobalt - Yongle

Figure 2 (Item M1)

Native Cobalt - Chenghua

Figure 3

Imported Cobalt - Jiajing

Figure 4

Native Cobalt  - Kangxi

Research and Conclusion

Determining genuine Ming Dynasty, Chenghua (1465-87) blue and white from later Qing Dynasty, Kangxi (1662-1722) copies is one of the greatest challenges in porcelain connoisseurship.

During the 200 year span between the two reigns, the methods and artistry of the potter improved. By the end of the reign of Kangxi, the artists had become expert at both subtle and dramatic graduation in the application of cobalt. Very little streaking or wash overlapping within the outlined areas was noticeable.

Imported cobalt from the Xuande expeditions of 1426, 30, 33, and 34 had run out by the reign of Chenghua and native Chinese cobalt had to be used.  The next (and last) shipment of Mohammedan Blue to arrive from Sumatra was in 1486, too late to have any affect on porcelains from this reign.

Native Chinese cobalt was also used during the reign of Kangxi, so this also adds to the difficulty of determining authenticity.

Examination of Item M1 reveals the property of the cobalt to be native Chinese versus the imported variety.  Chinese cobalt has manganese, a hard, brittle, grayish metallic element with an oxidizing property. The firing process causes the blue to be tinted slightly gray (fig 2). The imported variety, known as Persian or Mohammedan blue, is a deeper and brighter blue without the presence of manganese (fig 1).  Though the import variety was now available, Chinese cobalt remained in use through the reign of Jiajing (1522-66) (fig 3). The use of native Chinese cobalt during the Qing dynasty reign of Kangxi is shown in figure 4.

The slight streaking in the washtones and the overlapping with the diluted wash in the outlined areas are characteristic of genuine Chenghua, though Imperial grade is near perfect.  The smooth creamy glaze with microscopic bubbles present in the cobalt areas are also characteristic to Chenghua, as is the smooth biscuit and the thin delicate potting.  The orange iron oxide discoloration visible where the biscuit is exposed is further proof, as the copies produced during Kangxi were of near perfection in both decoration and firing.

The style, decoration, and physical properties of item M1 conclude it to be authentic Ming Dynasty, Chenghua (1465-87).

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