Font Size
Return to Previous Page

Conical Bowl with the Three Friends of Winter
Conical Bowl with the Three Friends of Winter, Early 15th century
Porcelain with underglaze blue decoration (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
[ More Details ]

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.

Blue-and-White Porcelains

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 late 1700s.

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.

Return to Previous Page