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1500AD Ming Sancai Porcelain Female Lute Mandolin Zither Musician Wall Plaque $499.99

For Customers outside of USA

Exceptionally Well Preserved, Large, Handsome, Colorful 15th or 16th Century Ming Dynasty Dancing Female Lute/Mandolin/Zither Musician Porcelain Wall Plaque. Possibly an 18th or 19th Century Revival Imitative.

CLASSIFICATION: Sancai (“Three-Color”) Glazed Porcelain Wall Plaque.

ATTRIBUTION: Ancient China, Ming Dynasty, 15th or 16th Century.


Height: 287 millimeters (11 1/2 inches).

Breadth: 174 millimeters (7 inches).

Thickness: 48 millimeters (1 7/8 inch).

CONDITION: Exceptionally good – almost perfectly preserved. A little wear consistent with any household item of its age, including some crazing of the porcelain finish. The customary blemishes inherent in hand production of porcelain – warts and dimples, zits and pits. Not flawless, but certainly in a very good state of preservation.

DETAIL: A splendidly preserved three color wall plaque so wonderfully characteristic of late Ming Dynasty artwork. This is a very heavy and thick piece of porcelain, is fairly large, and would be a marvelous office or kitchen decoration. The glaze is almost entirely intact, vibrant multiple shades of green, together with brown, yellow, and white. The condition of the plaque is exceptional – really well preserved. There are of course a few minor scuffs, marks, dings, etc., all virtually undetectable. Realistically one would expect some blemishes of a wall plaque this old, so there are no surprises here except that there are so few blemishes. There are no significant chips – even along the rim; and there are no cracks at all, hairline or otherwise. This ancient piece of porcelain art is truly in exceptional condition!

The plaque depicts a dancing female musician playing a traditional ancient Chinese musical instrument known as a “liuqin”. The "liuqin" is a four-stringed mandolin or lute with a pear-shaped body which was common in ancient China, and remains so today. It is small in size. A larger version of the instrument is known as a "pipa". The pipa is one of the most popular Chinese instruments and has been played for nearly two thousand years in China. The liuqin's range of its voice is much higher than the pipa, and it has its own special place in Chinese music, whether in orchestral music or in solo pieces. Though traditionally it has been associated with folk Chinese opera, in recent times it has become appreciated for its unique tonal and acoustic qualities. The instrument is generally held diagnoally and played with a pick. Although both the liuqin and pipa look like a lute, neither have a neck, as the soundboard body spans the entire strings to the head of the instrument, making both liuqin and pipa actually handheld zithers. Historically, the liuqin was commonly made of willow wood, while the professionals used versions constructed with a higher-quality red sandalwood or rosewood.

As mentioned, a few little blemishes are entirely expected of a piece of porcelain this old. As you will note by examining the piece closely, the porcelain does show a bit of “crazing”, however this is quite typical of ancient porcelain. There are a few production blemishes (warts and dimples, zits, and pits), again really not noticeable, and quite typical of hand-crafted porcelain of the Ming Dynasty. There are a few stubborn soil deposits which could be scrubbed or brushed off. Overall it is an exceptionally attractive piece, and a well preserved specimen of the ancient Chinese art of pottery. If you’d like a splendid example of Ming porcelain art to proudly display, you could not go wrong with this one. Whether at work or at home, you can show this off with great pride. Either way, it will certainly spark interest and perhaps even a little envy! It is very colorful, very handsome, and quite unique.

Although it is probable that this specimen is much older, it would be remiss of us not to mention the fact that it is also possible that this piece might be a revivalist imitative produced for the European market of the 18th or 19th century. It is widely known that Chinese porcelain and other ceramic artwork was quite popular in Victorian Europe. Carrying Chinese porcelain from China to Europe was an industry for the seafaring mariners of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. Entire fleets of sailing ships plied the trade, especially the Dutch and English. However in addition to porcelain, ancient Chinese ceramics were also extremely popular in Victorian Europe, where Chinese ceramic artwork was highly appreciated and in great demand.

Although the style of this specimen is very convincing and suggests it might indeed be of Ming Dynasty origin, a large portion of the antique/ancient Chinese ceramics in Europe date to the 18th or 19th century, so it is quite possible that this is an imitative revival piece. Judging by the style it is likely considerably older, but only a $1,000 thermoluminescence test would establish this conclusively (and even then the reliability and accuracy of such testing is still debated). So we’ll simply err on the side of being conservative and suggest that you consider it a revival piece, and if it is indeed older, so much the better. However whether an antique several centuries old, or an antiquity a few centuries older, this is a valuable and collectible piece of art.

HISTORY OF MING CERAMICS: The Mongol Yuan Dynasty’s rule ended with the establishment of a native Chinese dynasty, known as the Ming (1368-1644 A.D.). The Ming period is famous for its decorative arts. Ceramic production increased dramatically, and foreign markets expanded greatly as underglaze blue and red porcelain became increasingly popular for export. In addition, enameling was introduced. A double-fire process was discovered by which an object was first fired at the high temperature needed for porcelain, then painted with the desired colors, such as green, yellow, or purple, and fired a second time. This invention allowed for an almost infinite variety of bright colors to decorate the finest Chinese ceramics. Many new styles appeared, such as the famille wares, which were especially popular in the European markets. In the later half of the Ming dynasty, European traders established direct contact with China and stimulated the ever-growing ceramics market to produce objects with new shapes and designs.

Perhaps the most famous type of ceramics made during this period are the (cobalt) blue and white porcelains. These were white porcelain bodies painted with underglaze blue and then covered with a transparent glaze before firing. Not only produced in vast quantities for imperial use, they were also exported as far as Turkey. While styles of decorative motif and vessel shape changed with each new Ming emperor, the quality of Ming blue and whites are indisputably superior to that of any other time period. Throughout the Ming dynasty, the dragon (representing the male) and the phoenix (representing the female or dragons bride) were the most popular decorative motifs on ceramic wares. The production of “sancai” (three-color) porcelain was also of remarkable quality, especially of human and animal figures, and such pieces remain much sought after even to present time.

HISTORY OF THE MING DYNASTY: The Ming dynasty (1368-1644 A.D.) was founded when a Han Chinese peasant and former Buddhist monk turned rebel army leader and overthrew the Mongol Yuan Dynasty. In two purges approximately 10,000 scholars, administrators, and bureaucrats and their families were put to death in an attempt to stabilize the political situation and extinguish the Mongol influence – any possible dissent was exterminated. Imperial power was reasserted throughout China and East Asia, and the former Mongol civil government was reestablished Chinese. Literature was patronized, schools were founded, and the administration of justice was reformed. The Great Wall was extended and the Grand Canal improved. The empire was divided into 15 provinces, most of which still bear their original names.

With its first (Southern) capital at Nanjing, and a subsequent (Northern) capital at Beijing, the Ming reached the zenith of power during the first quarter of the fifteenth century. The Ming had inherited the world’s most powerful maritime force, and China was at the time the world leader in science and technology. However in an attempt to extinguish the memory of Mongol rule, the Ming rejected all foreign influences. Given the stability of the period, it was not difficult to promote a belief that the Chinese had achieved the most satisfactory civilization on earth and that nothing foreign was needed or welcome. For the population of 100 million, there were no disruptions and prolonged stability of the economy, arts, society, and politics. Finding the concept of expansion and commercial ventures alien to Chinese ideas of government, Conservative Confucian bureaucrats and administrators pressed for a revival of a strict agrarian society.

The Chinese emperor forbade overseas travels and stopped all building and repair of oceangoing junks. Disobedient merchants and sailors were killed, and the greatest navy of the world willed itself into extinction. Consequences of this isolationist conservatism included protracted struggles against the Mongols, Japanese pirates ravaging the coast of China, incursions by the Japanese into Korea, and eventually the weakening of the Ming Dynasty. The quality of imperial leadership deteriorated, and court eunuchs came to exercise great control over the emperor, fostering discontent and factionalism in the government. Ripe for a takeover, China again fell to alien forces when in 1644 A.D. the Manchus took Beijing and became masters of North China, establishing the last Chinese Imperial Dynasty, The Qing.

HISTORY OF CHINESE EARTHENWARE: The first Chinese ceramics archaeologists have found date back more than 10,000 years. These were earthenware, which means they were made from clay and fired at the kind of low temperatures reached by a wood fire or simple oven. In China, most ceramics made before the Tang dynasty (600 A.D.) are earthenware. They may be glazed or unglazed, and are occasionally painted, often brightly colored. Stoneware ceramics are harder and less porous than earthenware and are fired at hotter temperatures—between 2100°F and 2400°F. At these high temperatures, the surface of the clay melts and becomes glassy. Although stoneware is usually waterproof, most stoneware ceramics are glazed for decoration. The glazes often contain ash, which allows the glaze to harden at stoneware temperatures.

During the Shang Dynasty (1600-1100 B.C.) bronze metallurgy superceded ceramics as the favored art form of the ruling class. However both the ceramic and the bronze industries evolved into complex systems of production that were supported by the aristocracy. Decorative designs rich in symbolism were created first in bronze were then imitated in clay. Chinese burial customs included the tradition of placing clay replicas of material possessions, animals and people in the tomb to accompany the deceased and serve them in the next life. Although archaeological finds have revealed that glazed pottery was produced as early as 1100 B.C. during the Zhou dynasty, the production of glazed wares was not common until about 200 B.C. during the Han Dynasty. However from about 1000 B.C. onwards during the Shang and Zhou dynasties, primitive porcelain wares emerged. Real porcelain wares appeared in the Han dynasty around 200 A.D. In the process of porcelain development, different styles in different periods blossomed.

The production of porcelain became widespread by about 500 A.D. Using a special clay with ground rock containing feldspar, a glassy mineral, the material was fired at very high temperatures above 2400°F. The surface of the clay melts at such high temperatures and becomes smooth as glass. Early porcelains were undecorated and were used by the Imperial court and exported as far as the Middle East. For instance during the Han Dynasty principally celadon (green) and black porcelain were mainly produced. The famous blue and white porcelain was created with blue paint made from cobalt and then covered with a clear glaze, which can withstand the high temperatures of the kiln. The technical and creative innovations of Chinese potters are unique accomplishments in the cultural heritage of the world. Today, archaeological excavation and research in China are revealing new sites and new examples of the genius of the Chinese potter.

HISTORY OF CHINESE CIVILIZATION: Remains of Homo erectus, found near Beijing, have been dated back 460,000 years. Recent archaeological studies in the Yangtse River area have provided evidence of ancient cultures (and rice cultivation) flourishing more than 11,500 years ago, contrary to the conventional belief that the Yellow River area was the cradle of the Chinese civilization. The Neolithic period flourished with a multiplicity of cultures in different regions dating back to around 5000 B.C. There is strong evidence of two so-called pottery cultures, the Yang-shao culture (3950-1700 B.C.) and the Lung-shan culture (2000-1850 B.C). Written records go back more than 3,500 years, and the written history is (as is the case with Ancient Egypt) divided into dynasties, families of kings or emperors. The voluminous records kept by the ancient Chinese provide us with knowledge into their strong sense of their real and mythological origins – as well as of their neighbors.

By about 2500 B.C. the Chinese knew how to cultivate and weave silk and were trading the luxurious fabric with other nations by about 1000 B.C. The production and value of silk tell much about the advanced state of early Chinese civilization. Cultivation of silkworms required mulberry tree orchards, temperature controls and periodic feedings around the clock. More than 2,000 silkworms were required to produce one pound of silk. The Chinese also mastered spinning, dyeing and weaving silk threads into fabric. Bodies were buried with food containers and other possessions, presumably to assist the smooth passage of the dead to the next world. The relative success of ancient China can be attributed to the superiority of their ideographic written language, their technology, and their political institutions; the refinement of their artistic and intellectual creativity; and the sheer weight of their numbers.

A recurrent historical theme has been the unceasing struggle of the sedentary Chinese against the threats posed by non-Chinese peoples on the margins of their territory in the north, northeast, and northwest. China saw itself surrounded on all sides by so-called barbarian peoples whose cultures were demonstrably inferior by Chinese standards. This China-centered ("sinocentric") view of the world was still undisturbed in the nineteenth century, at the time of the first serious confrontation with the West. Of course the ancient Chinese showed a remarkable ability to absorb the people of surrounding areas into their own civilization. The process of assimilation continued over the centuries through conquest and colonization until what is now known as China Proper was brought under unified rule.

A certificate of authenticity (COA) is available upon request. Artifacts are mailed from the USA. Due to its fragile nature this particular piece is only shipped in an oversized box with lots of Styrofoam peanuts. The cost for shipping this item includes delivery confirmation (you can track your shipment on-line at the USPS Web Site). Additional items shipped together do result in a discount. The shipping weight of this item is 7 pounds. Various rates for shipping both domestically and internationally may be viewed here. A wide variety of cost-effective methods are available including surface mail, air mail, and expedited mail.