Period: Ming dynasty (1368–1644), Jiajing mark and period (1522–66)
Date: mid-16th century
Medium: Porcelain painted with cobalt blue under and colored enamels over transparent glaze (Jingdezhen ware)
Dimensions: H. 9 1/8 in. (23.2 cm)
Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1917
Accession Number: 17.127.2
The ascendancy of polychrome enamel decoration over other ornamental techniques seen in porcelains of the Jiajing period could represent an attempt to compensate for the low quality of potting by making an ambitious display of color. Ceramic painters were adept and imaginative with their palette of enamels and sought to achieve a maximum number of effects.
An important innovation of the Jiajing period, the so-called wucai ("five-color") decoration, was one of the last major additions to the lexicon of ornamental techniques developed during the Ming dynasty, Despite its name, the number of colors in wucai decoration is not strictly limited to five. Wucai, like doucai, is a combination of underglaze blue and overglaze polychrome enamels. However, where the soft underglaze blue of doucai was primarily used for dainty outline that laid the groundwork for elegant little washes of pale enamel colors, the dark blue of wucai was applied in bold washes to complement vigorous splashes of strong overglaze colors, and outlining was mostly done in overglaze red, brown, or black.
Fish in water weeds are a popular Jiajing wucai motif. The fish form a rebus: the Chinese word yu ("fish") is pronounced much like yu ("abundant"), and the pun symbolizes the wish for wealth.