Conical Bowl with the Three Friends of Winter
, Early 15th century
Porcelain with underglaze blue decoration of bamboo, pine, and plum (Jingdezhen ware)
3 5/16 x 8 11/16 x 8 3/4 inches (8.4 x 22 x 22.2 cm)
Purchased with the Henry B. Keep Fund, the Joseph E. Temple Fund, the Bloomfield Moore Fund, the John T. Morris Fund, and with funds contributed by Mrs. Walter H. Annenberg, The Beneficia Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. J. Welles Henderson, Mrs. Howard H. Lewis, Mrs. William F. Machold, Mrs. Donald Petrie, Meyer P. Potamkin, Hugh Scott, and Mrs. William L. Van Alen, 1984
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About This Bowl
While the original function of this thin, delicately designed bowl
is not clear, its conical shape, steep sides, small base-ring, and wide
mouth may indicate that it was used to serve wine. It possibly
belonged to a wealthy Chinese man, although two bowls with
similar proportions and decoration are known to exist in Turkey
and Iran, which suggests that it was made in China to be sold
as part of the trade of luxury goods between the countries. In the
early fifteenth century, such porcelain pieces were highly prized
as some of the most rare and valuable trade goods. This particular
bowl was once part of a collection owned by President Herbert
Hoover (1874–1964), who admired the intense blue color, so
striking against the brilliant white.
The main design is a bouquet of intertwined pine, plum, and
bamboo branches, which are carefully arranged to accentuate the
shape of the bowl. At the base, there is a small tuft of bamboo
leaves. Plum blossoms wrap around pine branches, whose round
bundles of needles just touch the object's upper lip. These three
plants are known as the Three Friends of Winter, a favorite theme
of Chinese wealthy and educated classes. Since pine and bamboo
are evergreens and the plum tree blooms in deep, cold winter,
surviving when all other plants do not, they are admired for their
resilience and endurance. Poets and scholars used the Three Friends
as ideals for their ability to face hardship with moral integrity.
This decorative motif was also enjoyed at social gatherings—such
as ones to welcome the New Year—where a bowl like this would
have been a centerpiece.
Porcelains with this color scheme are known as "blue-and-whites."
These pieces were initially very expensive in China because cobalt,
the mineral used to create the deep blue color, had to be imported from the Middle East. However, by the time this vessel was made,
probably in the early 1400s, the substance had been discovered in
China. The black tone of the blue in this object suggests that the
cobalt was mined in China, where darker cobalt is found.
The potter painted the Three Friends of Winter motif on the white
bowl with a cobalt underglaze
. Then, he covered the entire bowl
with a different glaze, concealing the design. Once the vessel was
fired in a kiln
, this second glaze became transparent, allowing the cobalt design to emerge and making the surface shiny. The brilliant white color was achieved when the glaze chemically reacted in the kiln with ingredients in the clay. When blue-and-white objects are fired at a high temperature with correct timing and kiln conditions,
the clay hardens, turns translucent white, and fuses with the glaze,
which forms into a lustrous surface. High-quality blue-and-whites
are fired at around 2,318–2,354 degrees Fahrenheit. The amount of
oxygen inside a kiln affects the color and texture of the ceramics
being fired. European and American traders, who purchased Chinese
porcelains in great numbers for sale in their countries, envied
China's highly sophisticated technology of porcelain production.
Europeans did not learn the secrets of making porcelain until the
This object is included in Learning from Asian Art: China
, a teaching kit developed by the Division of Education and made possible by a grant from the Freeman Foundation of New York and Stowe, Vermont.