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Steven P. Gaskin. The David Vases: Considering Serpentine Waves on Yuan Blue-and-White

Yuan dynasty blue-and-white porcelain is like blues music: it uses a limited set of motifs in endless variations, with no two exactly alike. The ‘David vases’ in the British Museum are like a catalogue of these motifs, showing many (though not all) of the designs we find on Yuan dynasty (1271–1368) blue-and-white. The vases—a pair of temple vases dated by inscription to 1351, and once owned by Sir Percival David (1892–1964)—are on view in the Sir Joseph Hotung Centre for Ceramic Studies. According to the British Museum, the vases are ‘among the most important examples of blue-and-white porcelain in existence, and are probably the best-known porcelain vases in the world’. This is because they are the only dated Yuan dynasty blue-and-white porcelains. Without the evidence of the decorative motifs the David vases provide, scholars would have no basis upon which to assign any blue and white porcelain to the Yuan dynasty. Peter Y. K. Lam, recently retired Director of the Art Museum at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, has published articles on different aspects of the decoration on the vases, making important contributions to our understanding of Yuan blue-and-white, and which have inspired this article.

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