The objects shown are selected from the nearly three hundred examples featured in William R. Sargent's monumental Treasures of Chinese Export Ceramics from the Peabody Essex Museum, published earlier this year.
17 ½ inches. Museum purchase.
The shield bearing a seven-headed hydra bifurcated by a banderole with the Latin motto Saptenti nihil novum [sic] ("nothing is new to the wise") places this charger in a small group of related ceramics. They have been published frequently, but the source of the design has not been determined. Among them are a bowl (British Museum) that may be the one depicted in a 1638 still life by Willem Claesz. Heda (1594-1680/82) and an earthenware bowl made in Iran, 1650-1700, that is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. In addition, a small dish with this decoration is the only piece with a specifically European design among the porcelains collected by Manuel I of Portugal (r. 1495-1521) and his son and successor John III (r. 1521-1557) that were later installed in the ceiling of Lisbon's Santos Palace. That dish has led to the thought that the motif was ordered for the Portuguese market, a supposition strengthened by its similarity to a relief carving found on the facade of St. Paul's church in Macau and the discovery of a shard showing a portion of the shield and hydra heads among a thousand other kraakware shards recovered from the site of the St. Augustine Convent in Macau. Nonetheless, the complex tracing of the seventeenth-century provenances of the various ceramics with this motif, which encompass Macau, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Iran, complicate what must remain an enigma for the time being.