probably English (London)
Marked by Unmarked
Object Place: Europe, Probably London, England
H. 22.1 cm (8 11/16 in.); W. 19.6 cm (7 11/16 in.); D. 13.3 cm (5 1/4 in.)
Medium or Technique
Porcelain (China, Ming Dynasty, probably Wan-li period [1573–1619]) with silver mounts
Alyce Morrissey Gallery (Kunstkammer) (Gallery 143)
The porcelain vessel has a bulbous body with shallow vertical lobes and a tall flaring neck cut in to a narrow straight-sided rim. A bulbous lobe on the shoulder forms the base of the spout. The porcelain is decorated in underglaze blue with birds and flowers. The silver mounts consist of a stamped foot rim, three vertical stamped and molded straps with undulating outline, and a circular collar with stamped decoration at the base of the neck, to which the straps and the handle are attached. The ear-shaped handle is formed of flat sheet, scrolled at both ends and engraved; a thin, molded wire decorates the spine. A collar encircles the top of the neck, anchoring the hinge and cover. The thumbpiece is in the form of a winged mermaid. The cover is domed, with a stamped molded rim and a small flange, and is chased with vertical lobes. The finial is pagoda shaped. The silver spout is in the form of the neck and head of a dragon or griffin, with pointed ears and wattles. The foot ring is composed of molded and stamped wires. The other elements are formed, with the exception of the spout and the thumbpiece, which are cast. The vertical straps are joined to the foot and collar with hinges; the collar around the neck of the bottle is formed in two pieces and pinned.
Decorated with birds and flower sprays in underglaze cobalt blue, this porcelain drinking vessel, called a kendi, was made in China during the first part of the seventeenth century and exported to Europe, probably by Portuguese traders. At the time, Chinese porcelains were available in the West only to the wealthy and elite. Such highly prized objects were sometimes furnished with mounts made of precious metals, to enhance and protect them.
The English silver mounts added to this vessel make it more suitable for Western use. The original bulbous spout, decorated with Buddhist auspicious motifs, was extended with a silver pouring spout in the form of a griffin or dragon’s head. A domed lid was added to the open neck, and a handle with a thumbpiece in the form of a winged mermaid was attached.
The kendi drinking vessel derives from an Indian ritual vessel called a kundika, a bottlelike metal vessel with a spherical body, an elongated neck, and a pouring spout that was used to sprinkle holy water in Buddhist rituals. Ceramic versions were produced in Southeast Asia and in China around the eighth century. This particular form with a bulbous spout appeared in Southeast Asia starting from the fourteenth century. The popularity of the shape led to the manufacture of blue-and-white porcelain versions in China to satisfy the demand from the Southeast Asian market. Exported to the Middle East, the form was adapted for use as a hookah, or water pipe.
1955, Nicolas E. Landau (b. 1887 - d. 1979), Paris; sold by Landau to the MFA for 450,000 fr. (Accession Date: September 15, 1955)
Theodora Wilbour Fund in memory of Charlotte Beebe Wilbour