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49. Kendi

China, Early 17th Century
H: 18 cm


Provenance: Private Collection, The Netherlands

This round bodied vessel, with an elongated bulbous spout, is decorated in dark underglaze blue with darker outlines. The neck - decorated with lotus scrolls - flares out into a flat disc under the rim. Around the shoulder it has a band of lappets with a border of squares underneath. The main body has three lobbed cartouches with bold flower decoration, interspersed with stylized clouds. It stands on a low foot rim with a double blue line, the underside also has a double blue ring marked in the center with a stylized rabbit.

This type of vessel - known as a kendi - was used in Asia for drinking wine or water. They were filled through the neck and imbibed or poured from the spout.The term is actually a Malayan word, thought to derive from the Sanskrit name for a waterpot, kundika. This was a type of ewer used in Buddhist ceremonies for sprinkling purification water. The form, which probably originated in India spreading throughout South East Asia, appears to have been produced in many variations.

Even though the Chinese themselves never actually used them, kendi were a very popular and mass produced at the kilns in Jingdezhen. From here they were exported throughout Asia and the Middle East. From the 17th Century kendi came to Europe via the Portuguese traders; not for use but as curiosities and decorative items. Substantial quantities of these ewers were found in the Ming cargos of the Witte Leeuw (1613) and the Hatcher Cargo (1643).

The shape and size of these ewers vary greatly, some have animal forms such as elephants or frogs. The decoration was mainly Chinese in style and treatment, often floral as Muslim countries excluded living beings from their decorative motifs. When the habit of smoking was introduced in the Middle East, kendi also formed part of the Turkish water pipe set. A similar kendi to this one, can be found in the collection of the Topkapi Saray (Istanbul), a museum famous for its large collection of Chinese porcelain with Islamic shapes and decoration.

• Jörg & van Campen 1997
Christiaan J.A. Jörg & Jan van Campen, Chinese Ceramics in the Collection of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Amsterdam / London 1997, p.67 nr.54
• Kerr & Mengoni 2011
Rose Kerr & Luisa Mengoni, Chinese Export Ceramics, London, 2011, p.21
• Krahl & Ayres 1986
Regina Krahl, & John Ayers, Chinese Ceramics in the Topkapi Saray Museum, Istanbul; A complete catalogue, part II: Yuan & Ming Dynasty Porcelains, London, 1986, p.665 nr. 1044
• Pinto de Matos 2011
Maria Pinto de Matos, The RA Collection of Chinese Ceramic : A Collector’s Vision, London, 2011, nr 50
• Pijl-Ketel 1982
C.L. van der Pijl-Ketel, The Ceramic Load of the Witte Leeuw (1613), Exhibition Catalogue The Rjksmuseum Amsterdam, 1982, p.130
• Rinaldi 1989
Maura Rinaldi, Kraal Porcelain: A Moment in the History of Trade, London, 1989, p.174-176
• Stöber 2013
• Eva Ströber, Ming: Porcelain for a Globalized Trade, Leeuwarden/ Stuttgart, 2013, p. 184-187 & 216


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