Description: Large bowl on footing, spreading flat rim. Decorated in underglaze blue. Inside, a medallion with a harp rising from the waves. Border of prunus branches. Outside, two belts with scenes from romance in landscape setting. Border of phoenix and peony pattern.
The large bowl illustrates various scenes from the Xi Xiang Ji, by leading playwright Wang Shifu (ca. 1250-1300), generally referred to in English as The Romance of the Western Chamber, which is the most-widely used story on narratively decorated ceramics in 17th century China. The reasons for the interest in this play and its representation on ceramics can be tied to three major trends: greater artistic freedom enjoyed by the artisans of the kiln centre of Jingdezhen after the death of the Ming Wanli Emperor in 1620 (when the kilns were forced to seek new patrons due to the cessation of imperial patronage), the great flow in popularity and quality of woodblock illustration in the Shunzhi and early Kangxi reigns, 1644-61 and 1662-1722, and the increasing use of narrative themes in literature for social and political commentary. At that time, The Romance of the Western Chamber achieved extraordinary popularity both on the stage and as reading matter, going through more than a hundred editions between 1600 and 1900.