The Review with William Chak |Blue and White 'Bajixiang' Bowl and Cover

Sotheby’s Hong Kong presents a wide range of fine ceramic wares for its fall sales. In addition to the leading lot, a Ruyao brush washer, there is another noteworthy lot. It is a blue and white ‘Bajixiang’ bowl and cover from the Xuande period that is going to be sold as the only lot in its sole sale. The bowl is painted in vivid cobalt blue with the Buddhist emblems “bajixiang” and lotus blooms. The bowl is well-preserved with its original cover, which makes the piece even rarer. William Chak (master of Chak’s and distinguished art dealer) smiled when he greeted his “old friend”.

An Extremely Fine and Rare Blue and White 'Bajixiang' Bowl and Cover
Marks and Period of Xuande

Auction house: Sotheby’s Hong Kong
Sale: The Edward T. Chow ‘Bajixiang’ Bowl
Auction date: 2017/10/3
Size: 10.7 x 17.8 cm

  • Collection of Edward T. Chow (1910-1980)
  • Sotheby's Hong Kong, 25th November 1980, lot 5
  • Collection of T.Y. Chao (1912-1999)
  • Sotheby's Hong Kong, 19th May 1987, lot 231

Estimate: HK$35,000,000 - 55,000,000

W: I last saw it in 1987. It has been 30 years since then. It belonged to T.Y Chao (a shipping tycoon). Before that, it belonged to Edward T. Chow in 1980 and later went to auction at Sotheby’s. In 1980, I had a vague idea about it because I was only a learner back then. It gave me a stronger impression when it reappeared in 1987.

Q: What about the rarity of this bowl?

W: It is decorated with stylised lotus and Bajixiang (Eight Buddhist Emblems), made in the Xuande reign. Few pieces like this have been handed down. Most ceramic wares from the Yongle and Xuande (Yongxuan) reigns are made in sizes of a dice bowl or a big bowl. It is rare to see such an exquisite bowl in this size together with its original cover. It is priceless. It goes with the original cover, which definitely increases the rarity of the vase.

W (continue): Imagine this, the vase was made 400-500 years ago. Such an important Xuande Guanyao bowl with its cover still is well-preserved and put in front of us. It is a scarce and rare piece.

Q: Among all Xuande porcelains that have been handed down, is there any work similar to this bowl that we can take reference from?

Collection of National Palace Museum

W: There are two similar bowls like this, one in Taipei, which looks a lot like this one. The other one is in Beijing, decorated with stylised lotus but no Bajixiang. This bowl is refined and rare, and the painting shows a vivid illustration. The ground coat is evenly applied. This is a “duck-egg” green glaze together with “kiln red”. The glaze is delicate. It is a colour of white with a blue-greenish tint. Having seen so many Yongxuan porcelains. I think this one is perfect, in terms of its heat control, painting and colours.

Collection of the Palace Museum 

Q: Why are the seal marks inscribed in both the bowl and the cover?

W: One special feature of Xuande bowls is a double-circle mark on the bowl. The cover must be inscribed with a mark but not necessarily within double circles. It could be due to the rules set by the imperial court. For example, most cricket jars of Xuande period are also inscribed with marks on the base and cover but they are not within double circles either. This is a standard six-character mark of Xuande period.

Q: What’s the feature of a standard six-character mark of Xuande period?

W: For example, the components of character “Ming” are placed on the same level and the character “Xuan” is neatly arranged. The horizontal stroke of “De” is missing but that stroke was added for Xuande-imitation porcelains in Qing dynasty. You can also tell from the characters “Nian” and “Zhi”. These were the specifications set by the imperial court for royal kilns and craftsmen had to follow these rules.

Q: What purpose does this kind of bowl serve?

W: Look at the shape of the bowl and motifs on the cover. Most lotus motifs are related to Buddhist worship. The bowl is also decorated with a Bajixiang motif. I believe the bowl is a ritual vessel for Buddhist worship. Maybe it was put alongside with other offerings on the altar table. I don’t think the Emperor Xuande used it for dining.