Xuande Emperor (1426-1435)

Xuande was the eldest son of Hongxi Emperor and was the fifth emperor to rule the Ming Dynasty. He strived to continue on the path of his grandfather Yongle Emperor’s “Golden Age”. Xuande was an accomplished painter and was fond of painting animals. He was regarded as the only Ming Emperor to display genuine artistic merit and interest.

Emperor Xuande also took a personal interest in porcelain. At Jingdezhen, some sixty kilns worked for the court. The majority of pieces bear the following mark transcription: Daming Xuande nianzhi (made during the Xuande reign of the Great Ming dynasty). It is neatly written, placed either under the base in two vertical lines, or near the outer rim in one horizontal line. Under Xuande, it became an established practice to mark ceramics; nevertheless authentic pieces without marks do exist.

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Yongle Emperor (1403-1424)

The third emperor of the Ming Dynasty – Yongle reigned during the flourishing age of the early Ming dynasty. Yongle was the fourth son of the Hongwu emperor, who named Jianwen (his grandson) as successor to the throne shortly before his death. This resulted in a deadly feud between Jianwen and Yongle, ultimately culminating in Yongle’s rebellion against the emperor and sacking of the Imperial palace in 1402. Yongle usurped the throne and became the new emperor at the age of 42.

The Ming Dynasty can be considered as the golden age of blue-and-white porcelain. During Yongle’s reign, the wares were very distinguishable from the later periods. The blues were intense in tone, but uneven. Where the cobalt is more concentrated, there are dark flecks giving what is called the “heaped and piled” effect. These small dark dots, which the Jingdezhen potters of the 18th century were at great pains to copy, were not intentional in Ming times and the potters gradually succeeded by using more refined cobalts, eliminating impurities and improving their control of the firing and cooling of the kiln. The rendering of the little flecks in the 18th century is too regular to deceive the expert eye. With Yongle, blue-and-white porcelains appear to have received Imperial patronage. However the Imperial mark of this reign is very rarely inscribed on the pieces attributed to it: bowls, vases, gourds and large dishes with foliate rims were some of the very few marked wares.

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Hongwu Emperor (1368-1398)

Hongwu was the founder and first emperor of the Ming Dynasty. In every aspect, the activity of Hongwu meant a return to China’s ancient traditions: the reorganisation of agriculture, a return to the examination system, the traditional Tang costume, and the Imperial red colour.

After 1369, porcelain production was centralised at Jingdezhen, the site of both the Imperial factory and several private workshops. The Imperial kiln monopolised the best raw materials and manpower to produce porcelain for the palace. Some other provincial centres continued to function, notably at Dehua in the Fujian province, at Yixing in the Jiangsu province , Longquan in Zheijiang province, Cixian in Hebei province, as well as the Jiangxi and Guangdou provinces. With the sites continuing production in this way, and earlier kilns being put back into production, it is no easy task to precisely date the earliest Ming wares.

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