A large blue and white bombé-form censer, Chongzhen period, circa 1640. Estimate $40,000 – $60,000. Photo Christie’s Image Ltd 2015
The compressed censer is decorated around the exterior with a scene of the Eighteen Luohan engaged in various pursuits in a mountainous river landscape beneath a chrysanthemum scroll encircling the waisted neck. 13 ¼ in. (33.5 cm.) diam. Lot 3531
Provenance: S. Marchant & Son, Ltd., London, 1987.
Collection of Julia and John Curtis.
Notes: Luohan (also known as arhan or arhat) are Buddhist enlightened beings who act as worldly conduits to the state of infinitely expanded consciousness granted by their enlightenment. Numbers vary in Buddhist iconography, but a group of eighteen was eventually established as the standard Chinese grouping which became popular in later Chinese art, appearing in a wide variety of media. For a blue and white Kangxi period brush pot decorated with this scene see lot 3574. The present censer depicts the eighteen in various small conversational groupings, painted in rich tones of underglaze blue.
In her note to a blue and white censer decorated with the Eighteen Luohan and dated 1644/45 (illustrated by Michael Butler, Julia B. Curtis and Stephen Little, in Shunzhi Porcelain: Treasures from an Unknown Reign, 1644-1661,Alexandria, VA, 2002, pp. 218-219, no. 71) Dr. Curtis places the subject within the context of the 17th century. She notes, “The depiction of the Eighteen Lohans became a popular theme with painters of the late sixteenth century such as Wu Bin and Ding Yungpeng, both of whom were Buddhists from gentry families who earned their livelihoods as painters. During the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Chinese Buddhism underwent an important period of doctrinal change, particularly the syncretism of Chan with Pure land sectarianism, and, in society at large, of Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism. The openness of Buddhism to “the unity of the three teachings” (sanjiao heyi) dignified the religion in the eyes of the scholar-gentry, which may account for the popularity of Buddhist motifs in the decorative arts and in professional paintings of the period.”
CHRISTIE’S. AN ERA OF INSPIRATION: 17TH-CENTURY CHINESE PORCELAINS FROM THE COLLECTION OF JULIA AND JOHN CURTIS, 16 March 2015,New York, Rockefeller Plaza