Longqing Wucai fishbowl will highlight Bonhams' November 7 auction

A Chinese Wucai fishbowl dating to the Longqing period is estimated to bring £500,000-800,000 ($811,815-1.3m) at Bonhams' London sale of Fine Chinese Art on November 7.

The bowl dates to the rule of Emperor Longqing - a brief stretch of time between 1567-1572 - during which the emperor took control of a country devastated by years of corruption and mismanagement.  

Wucai fishbowl Bonhams
The fishbowl is one of six examples known to exist

Decorated with various birds and flowers, including swans, lotuses and mandarin ducks, the bowl is one of only six known to exist. This is the largest of the group at 57.2cm in diameter. The rest of the set are housed in institutional collections.

Symbology is key to understanding Chinese decorative art. In this case, the combination of ducks and lotus flowers symbolize a balanced and loving marriage, while egrets amongst the lotuses symbolize the Confucian ideal of an honest official - particularly relevant given the challenges the Emperor faced.  

During this time, records note a series of natural disasters in the area round the Imperial kiln in Jingdezhen.

In 1571, the fishbowls were specifically mentioned in a communication from Jingdezhen censor Xiu Shi, who requested that they be removed from a recent order as they were difficult to fire.

Asaph Hyman, Bonhams' director of Chinese art, commented: "This hitherto unknown artefact presents collectors and museum with a once in a life time opportunity to acquire what is without a doubt an extraordinarily rare and important relic of the brief Longqing reign period."

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