This cylindrical tankard has a very slightly flared foot and an elegantly shaped handle. The paste is thick, the rim glazed and the base left bare. The decoration on the body is painted with cobalt oxide underglaze in the distinctive style of the Transitional period (1618-1683). A Taoist scholar leaning against a rock reads a book, while his companion opposite him holds a lingzhi immortality mushroom in his right hand. Both figures are situated in a mountain landscape with the sun or the moon above them. The depiction of tree branches and rocky peaks in the distance is particularly fine. Scrolling flowers highlight the rim between two double lines of cobalt blue. The handle has been decorated with auspicious clouds. The foot is accentuated with a frieze of tripartite leaves between two double lines of cobalt blue.
The style of blue and white porcelains of the Transitional period between the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) is very particular. The slightly bluish glaze brings out the whiteness of the body. The outlines are subtle and the cobalt wash is used like black ink. Therefore, the compositions are often inspired by traditional landscape or figure paintings.
The main interest of this piece lies in the re-appropriation of the tankard shape by Chinese ceramists. In 1635, the Dutch sent stoneware tankards from Cologne to the Jingdezhen kilns to serve as models for porcelain imitations. Those porcelain tankards were then shipped to Europe. However, the theme and the execution of this tankard’s decoration are typically Chinese.
A similar Transitional tankard is held in the Butler family’s private collection. See: Sir M. Butler and Q. Wang, Seventeenth Century Jingdezhen Porcelain from the Shanghai Museum and the Butler Collections: Beauty’s Enchantment, Shanghai: Shanghai Museum, 2006, pp. 322-323.