These 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.
They were made for the altar of a Daoist temple and their importance lies in the dated inscriptions on one side of their necks, above the bands of dragons. The long dedication is the earliest known on Chinese blue-and-white wares.
The dedication records that in AD 1351 a man named Zhang Wenjin from Yushan county presented these two vases and an incense burner (the whereabouts of which is unknown), to a Daoist temple in Xingyuan (modern day Wuyuan county). Yushan county is in northeast Jiangxi, which lies 120 km to the southeast of Jingdezhen, where these vases were made. This inscription demonstrates that blue-and-white porcelain production was already well-established at Jingdezhen by AD 1351. Originally the vases, modelled after bronzes, had porcelain rings attached through the elephant head shaped handles.
Porcelain was first produced in China around AD 600. The skilful transformation of ordinary clay into beautiful objects has captivated the imagination of people throughout history and across the globe. Chinese ceramics, by far the most advanced in the world, were made for the imperial court, the domestic market, or for export.
These vases were owned by Sir Percival David (1892–1964), who built the most important private collection of Chinese ceramics in the world.