Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Puzzing Evidence - Cloisonne with the Mysterious "Fang Ming" 明彷 Mandarin Hat with Peacock Feather and 1912 Republic of China Flag Logos

While working on the fish scale background pattern in Chinese cloisonne, I came across two bowls of identical design, but with different base logos.  More examples of this design turned up in a subsequent internet search.  Although these bowls don't seem all that attractive, and appear to be crude imitations of Ming cloisonne, some have evidently sold for surprisingly high prices. Many display a peculiar base logo featuring a Chinese Mandarin hat with peacock feather and the characters fang Ming (style of Ming) 明彷 (read from right to left).

When viewing the following picture gallery, readers might want to keep in mind these comments from three books:

The Pierre Uldry collection book (1985 in German, 1989 in English translation) shows 3 examples of the fang Ming mandarin hat logo, one on a bowl that appears identical to others pictured below featuring galloping sea-horses.

  • Catalog number 357, Bowl on slightly flaring foot-ring; decorated with fish and with sea-horses (haima) springing over the waves.  19th century.  Marked: fang Ming (in Ming style). H. 12.7 m; diam 25.2cm.  Ex coll. Dr. K. H. Brunner; Publ. Asiatisch Kunst, Kunstgewerbemuseum der Stadt Zurich, 1941, 91:b
  • Catalog numbers 358 & 359, Archaistic ceremonial vessel of li [small 3-lobed-leg censers] decorated with scrolling lotus; 19th century; Marked: fang Ming (in Ming style); H. 10.4 cm. diam 22.5cm.
On page 129, the authors discuss the “predilection in cloisonné of the Kangxi period for decorative forms of Ming times,” and how closely c1700 Kangxi cloisonné works imitated 15th century Ming works:

Through this revival, the era of the Jingtai-emperor, whose reign lasted only seven years in the mid-fifteenth century, has been elevated to the golden age of Chinese enamel production.  Furthermore, Jingtai lan – in literal translation, “the blue of the Jingtai era” – has entered the common consciousness and language as the quintessence of cloisonné.  The Kangxi works of “Ming style” became synonymous with cloisonné style in general, for significantly, it was again enamel pieces of this type that were copied in the second half of the nineteenth century (NOS. 349-53, 355-59) and to which the revealing, ubiquitous mark fang Ming (Ming copy) was added. Finally, the question has to be addressed how to distinguish between these groups: the models of the Ming dynasty, the imitations of the Kangxi period, and the nineteenth-century copies.

Beatrice Quette, on page 23-24 of her 2011 book, comments:

Jingtai (景泰) marks are the most frequently encountered marks on Chinese cloisonné … and have been subject to the most extensive discussion by scholars.  The fact that this mark is so often found on cloisonné is surprising for two reasons: such marks are found on objects whose styles point to different periods, and the Jingtai reign was the shortest and most disastrous of the Ming dynasty.  Whether these marks are incised, executed in champlevé, stamped, or inscribed in the enamel, none of the many pieces that we have examined seems to date from the middle of the fifteenth century. … The ubiquity of the Jingtai mark appears to date from the Qing dynasty, when cloisonné enamels began to be designated … as Jingtai lan (Jingtai blue), in reference to a shade of blue that was supposed to have been introduced during the Jingtai reign. …

In the case of nineteenth-century copies of Ming pieces, the Jingtai mark consists of four or six characters executed in red enamel, arranged in either two or three columns set against a white ground, and placed within a square or rectangle outlined in black enamel … Jingtai marks of this type are also found on nineteenth-century Japanese cloisonné enamels (Cat. 150)

The Cat. 150 piece referred to is another small 3-legged censer with yellow background and a lotus scroll pattern similar to the Uldry collection pieces, although with handles.  It is described thus:

Incense burner (li ding)
Japan, second half 19th century; Cloisonné enamel on cast copper alloy, 5 x 7 1/8 in. (12.6 x 18cm)
Mark: a six-character Jingtai (1450-57) mark set in enamel
Les Arts Decoratifs – musee des Arts decoratifs, Paris.  Purchase, 1889, 4.601

This object, the only example of a Japanese cloisonné in the exhibition, shows how some Japanese workshops imitated Chinese enamel production.  The shape of a liding is a typical shape used as an incense burner in China.  It has existed in bronze, ceramic, and in cloisonné enamel since the early Ming dynasty. … The mark of Jingtai, so often added on Chinese cloisonné, here is supposed to support a genuine Chinese origin.

On page 214-215 of Fredric Schneider’s 2010 book on Japanese cloisonne one can find an account, “Ming imitations – Hogyoku Shippo, Kaji Sataro.”

In a technical tour de force, one late nineteenth – early twentieth century maker, Kaji Sataro, and his pupil, Tsunekawa Aisaburo, were able to produce cloisonné pieces using modern wires and enamels that nevertheless imitated the archaic look of Ming dynasty cloisonné made 300 or 400 years earlier – intentionally creating all the flaws inherent in this much earlier technology.  Kaji Sataro called such pieces Hogyoku Shippo [Jewel Cloisonne]. …

A third maker, Kyoto’s Yoshida Yasubei, reportedly in the mid-1890s made pieces in unsophisticated old Chinese cloisonné technique and style, although his work has not been called Hogyoku Shippo and perhaps was only of lower commercial quality.
Gary H. Yoshino, on page 169 of his book Japanese Cloisonné Enamels, has this to say:

Click on the pictures, of course, for a larger view.  Right-clicking to open a picture in a new tab will enable the magnification zoom feature.

Appears identical to bowl above, only with brass plate inscription removed.

Chinese?  Jing Tai seal similar to what Quette describes as 19th century style (see quoted passage above).

Chinese? Charming design featuring deer, cranes, pines, bamboo, a sea-horse, floral scrolls, and "rainbow" coloring of petal surrounds and rim cloud motifs.  Another 19th century style Jing Tai seal, as described by Quette above.

Chinese? Cute rabbits, curly clouds, a nicely rendered carp, phoenixes, floral scrolls, attractive "rainbow" coloring of center sun  rays, petal surround and rim ruyi motifs.  Another 19th century style Jing Tai seal. This bowl and the two preceding all seem to me to come from the same atelier.  They're fairly large bowls, measuring about 9" across.

Late 19th - early 20th century Chinese style

Japanese? Chinese?

Japanese? Chinese?  Were drilled for use as lamps. Possible restoration work in lower right photo (half of lotus petals all going the wrong direction, what appear to be painted "wires.")

Typical Chinese "Da Ming" and "Qian Long" logos from circa 1920-1930s?
UPDATE: An example of a li ding 3-legged censer in the Ming style, with a 1912 Republic flag logo:
UPDATE: Another li ding censer from a Chinese site, with dragon handles and "Fang Ming" mark:

UPDATE: Two peculiar basins in the Ming style, with a fish scale diaper in the center medallion, 1912 Republic flag logo, and Lao Tian Li style dragons.

UPDATE: One more bowl (we now have a total of at least 11), pictured in Sir Harry Garner's book (1970 2nd edition), with his accompanying quote:
What to make of this puzzling evidence?  Perhaps we should amend the DeXingCheng shop flyer's statement, "Mr. Chia sold his product for a good price, especially to the high officials who used to take them as the old curios of Ming Dynasty"  to read "...high officials and wealthy foreigners..."?

UPDATE:  [Remember, you can right-click an image to open it in a new tab, then use the magnification feature to examine it in closer detail] eBay vendor bibberhai in The Netherlands has a covered bowl with Chinese dragon and lion motifs similar to two of the basins pictured above.  Presented with their permission are their photos of this bowl, which measures 9 cm in height, 13.5 cm in diameter, with the cover 10 cm in diameter.

It is difficult to imagine a Japanese cloisonne workshop copying the Lao Tianli-style Chinese dragon, as the Japanese 3-toed dragon iconography is very different:
The dragon of Lao Tianli

UPDATE March 2020:
Found the Sotheby's auction for a basin that sold for 18,750 quid and that looks remarkably similar to a white basin above. Pictures of the white basin show a crossed Republic flags logo on the base. Here are some close-up pics, including the link to the auction. You can open the first image in a new tab and view a magnified version that shows the details better.

UPDATE: Another example of this design, this time with a Republic flag on the back:

Another plate with Republic flags from Liveauctioneers in 2020, Belgium.

Composite of 4 variations on this basin.  Are the last two recent repros of a c1900 repro?


  1. Very impressive analysis. Thank you!

    1. You are most welcome! It is nice to know someone is actually reading these posts...