A blue and white kraak dish
Late 16th century – early 17th century
Wanli period, Ming dynasty
Porcelain with underglaze cobalt blue; Jindezhen ware
D: 14.5 cm
Perfect condition; some typical rim fritting
From a New Canaan, Connecticut private collection
Description & Notes
This particular dish features underglaze cobalt blue painting that is swift, confident, and well-done. Overall, I'd consider this dish to be a superior example of late Ming blue and white: its blue is deep and intense without veering on gray, the paste is compact, and the glaze is also fantastic. Paired with all these factors, the spontaneity found in the composition gives this dish an abstract, free pathos.
Kraak wares were named by the Dutch, whose East India Company (Verenigde Oost-Indische, or VOC) seized naval dominance from the Portuguese in the 17-18th centuries. “Kraak” is thus really another spelling of “Carrack”—a type of ship the Portuegues employed in the initiation of trade with China. In 1602 and 1604, the Dutch seized the Portuegues Santa Caterina and San Yago, and various “kraakporcelaine” was auctioned off to great success. Attentive buyers of kraakporcelaine included Henri IV of France and James I of England.
Kraak porcelain is important in that is was the first type of Chinese export ware to truly reach most far corners of the globe. Its influence on world cultures is truly remarkable. For instance, the natives of Tenasserim ground it up and took it as medicine. In Indonesia, Chinese porcelain dishes were used sometimes as instruments in a gamelan orchestra. Another tribe in Sarawak, the Kelabits, considered kraak jars the equal of the human body, and frequently exchanged them for slaves or sacrificial victims. Fragments of Wanli wares can also be found in the graves of Miwok Native Americans along the Pacific coast. Finally, Kraak dishs like this one influenced Dutch interiors and still life painting for generations.