Blue-and-white porcelain from the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) has been the most sought-after porcelain by collectors, public and private in the past decade, as no more than 400 pieces still exist in the world, according to Chen Kelun, deputy director of the Shanghai Museum.
More than 80 pieces of this rare and precious earthenware are on display at Shanghai Museum through Jan 20. The museum has spent the past two years preparing the important show titled Splendors in Smalt: Art of Yuan Blue-and-white Porcelain.
Besides its own collection, the Shanghai Museum borrowed from more than 30 museums and collectors from Iran, Japan and Russia, as well as the British Museum and John Eskenazi, a private collector in the United States.
Museums and institutions in different parts of China also contributed their pieces to the show.
Jessica Harrison-Hall, representative of the British Museum, said at the show’s preview that she had never seen so many porcelain pieces of such high value in one room, all from a narrow number of years. The exhibition opened to the public on Oct 19.
Blue-and-white porcelain developed to technical maturity in the Yuan Dynasty, but it was not until the 1950s that people learned about it.
On a pair of vases acquired in 1927 by Sir Percival David, an important collector of Chinese porcelain from Britain, was marked “11th year of Zhizheng reign (1351)”.
In the 1950s an American historian, John Alexander Pope, made the first systematic studies of Chinese porcelain from the Yuan Dynasty based on the pair of “Zhizheng” vases. The interest and enthusiasm over Yuan blue-and-white porcelain has been growing ever since.
In 2007, a jar depicting a scene of Gui Guzi coming down from the mountain was sold for 14 million British pounds, or about $35 million, breaking the auction-price record for antique Chinese porcelain.
The record-breaking jar, now belonging to Eskenazi’s company, is also on exhibition at the Shanghai Museum.
One of the two “Zhizheng Vases” is among the exhibits and, according to Harrison-Hall, this is the first time the vase has been lent to China since the 1920s. The piece was a milestone in the history of porcelain and highly important to the show.
“It looks even better here, with the lighting,” Harrison-Hall says, and the show has been “testimony of the reputation of the Shanghai Museum”.
The National Museum of Iran lent 10 pieces to the exhibition. This is the first time so many treasured antiques from Iran are exhibited in China, according to the museum director Asadollah Mohammadpour.
Centuries ago, Chinese ceramics were sent to Iran through the Silk Road, and this exhibition is a new example of the cultural and commercial exchange between China and Iran, he says.
All the blue-and-white porcelain from Yuan Dynasty were made in Jingdezhen of Jiangxi province. The beautiful blue-and-white colors were very popular with people in the Middle East, says Lu Minghua, director of the porcelain department of Shanghai Museum.
Foreign trade was highly developed in the Yuan Dynasty, and in more than 20 countries have found relics of Chinese blue-and-white porcelain, he says.