• Porcelain with cobalt pigment under clear, colorless glaze
  • 17 x 12.7 cm
  • Jingdezhen ware
  • late 15th century, Ming dynasty
  • Origin: Jingdezhen kilns, Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province, China
  • Provenance: Probably Indonesia
  • Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment
  • F1976.40


Kendi (drinking vessel), globular with flattened shoulder, a flattened mammiform drinking spout, a medium length straight neck with deep rounded projecting flange below the lip, low shallow square-cut foot. Small chip in lip, chip in footrim.
Clay: white porcelain of medium-fine texture. Unglazed base shows some dark spots and buff to rusty areas of oxidation on exposed surface.
Glaze: clear, feldspathic, slightly bluish cast, uneven coverage toward base, the dark lines of the cobalt paint decoration exposed in a few areas of base border. As far as can be seen, the interior is unglazed.
Decoration: painted in underglaze blue in line and wash. Flange has a row of lotus petals; the neck, upright floral sprays in natural style; on shoulder, a trefoil band; main wide band around belly, two naturalistic prunus branches and three flying insects; at base a very simplified lotus petal band; spout has two cloud-collar panels holding conventional motifs (one of which is identifiable as a fungus, the other may be the same) and two simple leafy sprays separating the panels. Encircling lines separate the bands of decoration and a line defines both lips. There is a curving line at junction of spout and body.

Curatorial Remarks

1. (J.H. Knapp, 1977) This pot can be classified as export ware. Kendi, or kundi, is a Malay word after the Sanscrit kundikafor water-pot. It refers to a form popular in Southeast Asia as a drinking vessel. The shape appears to be of native Southeast Asian origin. It was filled at the neck and the spout was used for direct drinking. Indonesia, Thailand, Annam and Malaya produced the shape in local wares. China exported this shape in porcelain, and it was also made in Persia and by the 17th century in Japan. The kundika shape, however, is of Indian origin and is different in several respects.

Evidence for dating this vessel, which was sold to the Gallery as 15th century, supports that attribution, and consists chiefly of comparisons in shape, style of decoration, and character of blue. The general shape, somewhat low and flattened body, neck of medium height, rather large spout, appears to conform to the shapes shown as 15th century on the chart of Sullivan 1957, 58. Perusal of photographs of 15th century kendi has yielded no examples closely resembling this piece. However, the style and drawing of the decoration may be seen on other 15th century porcelains. The naturalistic prunus branches of the main band, although not as delicate, are similar to those of the outside of Ardebil 29.149 (Pope 1956, pl. 59). On the inside of this same dish is a fungus conventionalized in almost exactly the same manner as that in the cloud-collar frame on bottom side of the flattened spout of the kendi. The treatment of the trefoil band on the shoulder is the same as that at the base of a late 15th century bowl (ibid., pl. 62). The upright branching plants on the neck occur on a number of 15th century pieces and seem to be the type we know as "hardy aster." An early 15th century flask (Misugi 1972, 133, pl. 88; this reference is in Japanese with English captions) has similar asters on one side and what appears to be pinks on the other. The drawing of the plants is similar on the kendi and in the flask. As for the flying insects, so often found in Wan-li designs, there are examples from earlier periods. A particularly fine dish of the 15th century in the Ardebil collection has similar small four-winged flying bugs (Pope 1986, pl. 71). Incidentally, one of the deer in the design carries a fungus drawn like that on the kendi. Two mid-14th century pieces in the Topkapi collection (Misugi 1972, 101[no.59], 118[no.75]) show insects. Number 59 is a plate with grapes, birds, and one small flying four-winged insect. On no. 75 the insects are not flying and are indefinable as a grasshopper and a mantis holding a moth. The character of the paste, glaze, and the cobalt blue is consistent with a 15th century date.

Sullivan, Michael. 1957. "Kendi." The Archives of the Chinese Art Society of America XI: 40–58.

Pope, John Alexander. 1956. Chinese Porcelains from the Ardebil Shrine. Washington: Smithsonian Institution, Freer Gallery of Art.

Misugi Takatoshi. 1972. The Chinese Porcelain Collection of Topkapi Saray. Japanese ed. Vol. 2. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.

2. (Exhibition label, Gallery 15, 15 March 1982–10 July 1986) Blue-and-white was an important export item from the very beginning of its production, first to the Near East and Southeast Asia, then to Europe. The Chinese did not make many concessions to the tastes of these regions. One notable exception was the kendi, a drinking vessel made expressly for the Southeast Asian market. This example, with its floral design painted in a pale shade of blue, dates from the 15th century.

3. (Louise Cort, 10 July 2005) The probable provenance for this kendi is Indonesia, since Ken Baars specialized in wares acquired there.

4. (Louise Cort, 18 January 2007) All the northern Vietnamese kendis from Chu Dau recovered from the Hoi An shipwreck and dated to late 15th century had this type of elongated, tapered mammiform spout, although the necks were topped by flat disks and low raised lips—and also fitted with small caps (Butterfields 2000, lots 48–64).

Butterfields. 2000. Treasures from the Hoi An Hoard. 2 vols. San Francisco and Los Angeles: Butterfields.

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