A very fine seventeenth century Dehua Blanc de Chine figure of Guanyin, impressed with the fisherman seal, the elegant figure with serene expression and half closed eyes, seated on a high rockwork base wearing gracefully flowing robes, open at the chest to reveal a jewelled necklace, holding a scroll in her left hand, her right hand resting on her knee, her hair worn in long knotted tresses, fixed with a crown and covered at the top with a cowl, on an oval wooden stand
Dehua, seventeenth century, late Ming or early Qing dynasty
Height including base, 47 cm, height excluding stand 45 cm, width 19 cm.
This unusually large Blanc de Chine figurine of Guanyin (or Kuan-Yin) dating from the seventeenth century is one of the finest of its kind. Today, Blanc de Chine pieces are some of the most sought-after collectibles in the world of Chinese art, their aesthetic appeal lying in their distinct shapes and colour, and their impossibly delicate, glass-like glaze. The French term Blanc de Chine was given to this beautiful pure white glazed porcelain, distinguished by its white clay body and milky ivory-white glaze that seamlessly appears to adhere to the porcelain body. Blanc de Chine was made at the kilns of Dehua, capital of the Fujian province in south eastern China.
During the mid-thirteenth century, the Dehua potters began producing brilliant white porcelain pieces, the likes of which had never been seen before. The Dehua kilns also produced a number of different wares from the Song dynasty up until today. The production started during the Northern Song period (960-1126) to be greatly expanded during the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279). Black, brown, green, blue-and-white and enamelled wares were also made and exported from this area. But the best known of these are the monochrome white wares such as Buddhist and Daoist figures, as well as vessels such as incense burners and vases, which from the end of the seventeenth century onwards were exported in considerable numbers to Europe under the name of Blanc de Chine. Some of these were even made in forms designed to appeal to Western tastes. Since 1954 Chinese archaeologists have discovered more than 300 kiln sites dating from the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties in the Fujian province. By 1990, 148 kiln sites had been discovered and documented as belonging to the Dehua district alone. Blanc de Chine ware included bowls, cups, vases joss stick holders and figurines of which the most popular subject was Guanyin.
Guanyin is regarded as the goddess of mercy and compassion, as the guardian angel of mankind within the Chinese Buddhist faith. She is also the patron goddess of mothers, the patroness and protector of seamen and fishermen as well as model of Chinese beauty. Guanyin received her name because, when about to enter heaven, she heard a cry of anguish arising from the earth and moved by pity paused before crossing the threshold. She was sometimes portrayed holding a child or, at other times meditating beside the seashore. Guanyin enjoyed unrivalled devotion from the Chinese people, her importance further emphasized by the fact that nine out of ten Blanc de Chine figures represent this Buddhist deity.
Dehua porcelains are among the few Chinese ceramics on which potter's seals are regularly found; not all were marked but a seal is generally a sign of higher quality. Here instead of a potter's mark one finds the impress of the fisherman seal, known as the Puji yuren seal and translated as 'virtue extends to all, even fishermen'. She also holds the scroll of wisdom and on her brow has the urna, a spot of sanctity, fourth of the superior marks of a Buddha.
From the seventeenth century onward, Blanc de Chine wares were exported in ever increasing quantities to Europe, where they exerted a strong influence on porcelain factories. This was especially so in France providing inspiration for much of the porcelain made at Saint-Cloud. It was also copied to a limited extent at Meissen (founded 1710) during the first fifteen years of the factory's life but much more at the English factories at Chelsea and Bow in London during their first periods from the mid to later eighteenth century.