covered jar with carp design

Creation date
Ming dynasty
porcelain with underglaze blue and overglaze enamels
Mark Descriptions
Da Ming Jiajing nian zhi
18 x 15 1/2 (diam.) in.
Credit line
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Eli Lilly
Accession number
Currently On View In
Valeria J. Medveckis Gallery - K308
[Mathias Komor] (in March 1951 cat., no. 71 as Jiajing period). Eli Lilly ($3,600.), Indianapolis, Indiana; given to the John Herron Art Institute, now the Indianapolis Museum of Art, in 1960
Reproduction of these images, including downloading, is prohibited without written authorization from VAGA.

350 Fifth Avenue, Suite 2820
New York, NY 10118
Tel: 212-736-6666
Fax: 212-736-6767

Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)

The carp on this jar leap and dive among lush aquatic plants. The fish are shown from an unusual vantage point, as if the viewer were underwater too, or as if the jar itself were transparent. A rich variety of meanings is associated with the motif, which has a long history in ceramic decoration. One of the better-known associations is the exchange between two 4th-century BCE Daoist philosophers, Zhuangzi and Huizi. Zhuangzi observed: “See how the fish swim as they please. That’s what fish really

enjoy.” When Huizi asked, “How do you know what fish enjoy?” Zhuangzi replied, “You’re not I, so how do you know I don’t know what fish enjoy?”

The Ming dynasty witnessed the development of enamel overglaze decoration in a palette of brilliant colors, produced by multiple firings. In the first stage, a cobalt-based paint was applied beneath a clear glaze; when the piece was fired, bright blue designs emerged against the white porcelain. Translucent enamels were then applied over the glaze, and the work was fired a second time. Made in the imperial kilns, this covered vessel is one of the few large, similarly decorated jars that demonstrate mastery of this complex technique. It would have endowed its owner with great prestige.

Fish have several popular associations derived from literature, including abundance, pleasure, royalty, and success.