A rare blue and white porcelain basin

A rare blue and white porcelain basin
A rare blue and white porcelain basin


Shunzhi period
Diameter: 81/8 in, 20.6 cm

From a small recessed base, the sides flare widely then turn upwards and rise vertically.

The well is finely painted in underglaze blue with Li Taibo reading a letter to an audience of the Minghuang Emperor, sitting on a platform in front of a screen, beneath a fan held by an attendant, and six courtiers, holding hu tablets. Above them is a large curtain, and one side is inscribed with seven characters, reading Li Taibo niansong fan shu (Li Taibo reads aloud the foreign letter). The rim is unglazed.

Formerly in a private collection, and previously sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 18 November 1979, lot 138.

Published: Kilburn, Transitional Wares and Their Forerunners, no. 86; and Lally, Chinese Ceramics of the Transitional Period (circa 1620–1680 AD) from the Collection of Mr and Mrs Peter Thompson, cat. no. 90.

Li Taibo, also known as Li Bai or Li Bo, (701–62), the poet Immortal, was a poet of the Tang dynasty and the enfant terrible of his day. He is often regarded as one of the two greatest poets in Chinese literary history, the other being Du Fu, also of the Tang dynasty.

The story, Li Taibo niansong fan shu, can be found in several sources, including the Ming dynasty collection by Feng Menglong (1574– 1646), Jingshi tongyan (Comprehensive Stories to Caution the World), where it appears under the title, Li zhexian zui cao xia man shu (Li “The Banished Immortal” Writes in Drunkenness to Impress the Barbarians).

A wucai box and cover decorated with a similar scene, in the collection of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, is illustrated in Scheurleer, Chinese Export Porcelain: Chine de Commande, pl. 36.

For a box and cover with a related audience scene, see Butler, Curtis and Little, Treasures from an Unknown Reign: Shunzhi Porcelain, 1644–1661, no. 60, pp. 198–9.

Note also a slightly later underglaze blue and red dish, dated circa 1670, with a scene of Su Dongpo before the Emperor, in Curtis, “Markets, Motifs and Seventeenth-Century Porcelain from Jingdezhen”, pl. 7.