A Ming porcelain dish and saucer–dish

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A Ming porcelain dish and saucer–dish

An exceptional aspect of the archaeology of Tudor and Stuart Devon is the presence of late Ming porcelain imported from China dating to the end of Elizabeth's reign (i.e. before 1600) and in the early years of the 17th century. There are important series of fragments of such porcelain at Plymouth and from Berry Pomeroy Castle, but the best-preserved pieces are from Exeter. Salvaged from the path of a bulldozer during the construction of the Guildhall Shopping Centre in 1974, these pieces date to about 1600. Their painting is in shades of underglaze cobalt blue on a hard-paste porcelain body. The dish shows a tranquil scene of islands and fishermen, rocks and trees, the border being of alternating peach (symbolising immortality) and flowers. The saucer-dish shows the 'bird on a rock' motif. Since such wares were highly prized, and in Elizabeth's reign seem to have been confined largely to the homes of wealthy courtiers, these are surprising luxuries to find, even in a wealthy merchant's home. A possible explanation is that Devon merchants were acquiring such goods through the capture of Spanish ships trading with the Far East. One such ship, the San Felipe, was brought into Saltash by Drake in 1587. Among its fabulously wealthy cargo were three pipes of porcelain, valued at the large sum of £100 per pipe.

Acknowledgments: RAM Museum

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