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Mustard pot

China, Jingdezhenca. 1628-1644; Ming dynasty, Chongzhen period
Porcelain decorated in underglaze cobalt blue; silver mountings
16 x 8.3 x 10.5 cm

This rare porcelain mustard pot, of baluster shape with wide neck,straight lip and handle, standing on a high, dome-shaped foot, is painted in underglaze cobalt blue and fitted with silver mounts and a hinged six-side porcelain cover with a hole on top. Moulded in two parts, with the seam running just below the shoulder, the body is decorated with a large tree peony on one side, and with a bouquet of four shrub peonies on the other, while the foot is decorated with a running frieze of pointed leaves. The tree peony (Paeo- nia suffruticosa) or m d n 牡丹, deemed in China “the queen of flowers” is the symbol of royalty, prosperity, wealth and honour. The silver mountings, probably of Dutch origin, comprise a turned foot, which significantly raises the height of the pot, and the hinged mechanism of the cover, all set with a waved rim that helps to secure the mounts in place. The present mustard pot belongs to a specific group of wares produced ca. 1635-1640 during the so-called Transitional period, made for export following Dutch-inspired shapes using the best porcelain clay, and featuring thickly potted walls, fine decoration in bands with landscapes, lively figures and animals painted with care in different shades of blue, under an impeccable transparent, glossy glaze. Mustard (made from ground brown mustard seeds mixed with vinegar or verjuice and honey) was extremely popular in the Netherlands, and was kept in small lidded globular pots fitted with a spoon or stick for mixing, and this explains why mustard pots feature a round opening on the cover, as the present example testifies, or an opening in the mouth rim.

Two similar blue and white porcelain mustard pots, albeit of a more globular shape and raised on a pedestal foot, dated to the same period and featuring silver mounts on the feet and covers, belong, one (16 x 9 x 14 cm) to theVictoria and Albert Museum, London, inv. no. C.67-1963, and the other to the Groninger Museum, Groningen. Mustard pots were among the first objects commissioned by the Dutch in Japan in the late 1650s. Two examples are known in Dutch collections in the Groninger Museum, inv. no. 1929-228 and 1987-128.

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