Harvard art exhibit highlights Chinese ceramics

Curator Melissa Moy describes numbered Jun ware. (Image courtesy of the Harvard Art Museums.)

Amid the Harvard Art Museums’ extensive holdings is a glimpse of Chinese palace life. Numbered Jun ware are ceramic flowerpots, so named for the numbers one through 10 in Chinese characters on the base. The numbers matched flowerpots to basins by size and were possibly made exclusively for the imperial palace in Beijing.

“Numbered Jun ware is something special and unique among Harvard’s excellent holdings of Chinese art,” said Melissa Moy, Alan J. Dworsky associate curator of Chinese art at Harvard Art Museums. “When people think of China, they think of blue and white porcelain, but Chinese ceramics are so much richer than that.”

Harvard has one of the largest and finest collections of numbered Jun ware outside the imperial collections in Beijing and Taipei, with 60 objects representing all 14 known shapes. The flowerpots are beautiful blue, purple or magenta, the result of glazes fired at high temperatures.


Numbered Jun ware, which were used in the Chinese imperial palace in Beijing, are on display at the Harvard Art Museums until August 13. (Image courtesy of Harvard Art Museums.)


Jun ware dates to the Song dynasty (960-1279), while numbered Jun ware was developed later. By the 18th century, emperors of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) collected these wares to adorn the inner court of the Forbidden City — the private residences of the famed imperial palace in Beijing.

Some of the pieces on display even mark the palace and room where they were placed, applied during the reign of collector-emperor Qianlong (r. 1736-95). Based on the inscriptions, the numbered Jun ware was kept in the private inner court for the emperor’s living quarters.

Numbered Jun ware is extremely rare, as it was likely intended for the Forbidden City and not for export.


Boston connection

The numbered Jun ware was donated in 1942 by Harvard alumnus Ernest B. Dane and his wife Helen Pratt Dane. The Danes were art collectors who lived in Brookline. While there is limited documentation of how the flowerpots left China, they were likely sold by impoverished members of the imperial family and purchased by the Danes from art dealers in the 1910s and ’20s.



Massachusetts residents can visit for free on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon, with proof of residency. Cambridge residents can visit free any day. Tickets are $15 for adults.



The special exhibit can be viewed at www.harvardartmuseums.org/tour/numbered-jun-ware-ceramics-for-the-chinese-palace.

A zhadou shaped flowerpot. (Image courtesy of the Harvard Art Museums.)


Adorning the Inner Court: Jun Ware for the Chinese Palace 

Now until August 13
Harvard Art Museums
32 Quincy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138

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About Ling-Mei Wong 黃靈美

Editor of the Sampan, the only bilingual Chinese-English newspaper in New England 舢舨報紙總編輯。舢舨是全紐英倫唯一的中英雙語雙週報。
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