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Dragon and Phoenix Vase (Meiping), c. 1430. Porcelain with incised and cobalt blue painted décor under a clear glaze, 18 x 11 1/2 x 11 1/2 in. (45.72 x 29.21 x 29.21 cm). Gift of Ruth and Bruce Dayton, 2002.126.1 © 2014 Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2400 Third Avenue South, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404

The entire body of this extraordinary vessel serves as a ground for a magnificently painted composition dominated by a dragon on one side and a phoenix on the other, each reserved in white, against a blue ground. The features of both creatures are carefully incised as are the white reserve clouds, which appear to drift through a deep blue sky. The artist applied cobalt blue unsparingly. Piled thickly in places, it attains the highly prized, richly mottled effect known as « heaped and piled. » This occurs through the eruptions of naturally occurring iron-oxide impurities in the cobalt during firing. The vertically placed dragon and phoenix appearing on opposite sides of the vessel are unprecedented and known only in this example.