Ming Dynasty Glazed Headrest


A beautiful Ming dynasty headrest displaying a vibrant two-coloured glaze in green and ochre. Beyond functional practices, headrests of this kind were fine pieces of decoration and could have been adorned with intricate designs, poems or philosophical quotes, each holding a symbolic meaning. This piece is modelled in a rectangular shape, with fluid curves to its angles. The inward-tilting top is sculpted with raised edges displaying foliage motifs, perhaps reminiscent of a lotus or peony flower, symbolic of fertility, purity, and continuity; pillows depicting such images were favoured wedding gifts. Simple linear and spiral motifs further decorate the top. The piece features a total of 14 vents across its body, which served to prevent possible destruction from the heat during the firing process. The vents on the glazed surface display more intricate designs, that of a Chinese cash coin motif created using an openwork technique, a symbol for wealth, good fortune and prosperity. The vent on the right side is slightly damaged, whilst the central and left one remain well-preserved.

N.B. This item will require additional postage charges after checkout due to weight and size.

Date: 1368-1644 AD
Period: Ming Dynasty
Provenance: From a West Country collection, 1990s; formerly with a Hong Kong gallery.
Condition: Fine condition. Some chips and encrustations across the body.


First manufactured in the Tang dynasty (618-907), ceramic pillows became a popular domestic item for the middle and upper classes by the Ming Dynasty. They were endowed with multiple functions, offering a cool rest for the head, to warding off evil spirits and being commonly used as burial wares. In 1591, GaoLian writes in the Zhun Shen Baijian (Eight Discourses on the Art of Elegant Living) ‘porcelain may be used to make pillows […] it has the power to brighten the eyes and benefit the pupils’. According to the same source, ceramic pillows might have brought other benefits to the user, such as gifting ‘pure and elegant dreams’.

Porcelain was at the heart of Ming Dynasty and the history of the Ming period, its raise, expansion and subsequent decline, can be traced throughout. Similar to the Renaissance in Europe, the Ming Dynasty signed a period of artistic and literary prosperity in China with porcelain being its most recognisable and admired production. A succession of seventeen emperors governed a population which saw a drastic increase during nearly 300 years of relative peace and stability. This, together with the Dynasty’s economic success, explains the culture’s artistic explosion and innovation. Innumerable kilns across China, from family workshops to factories, made a great diversity of ceramics to supply the market. At the beginning of the Ming Dynasty, the imperial factory was established at Jingdezhen, which, aside from supplying porcelain for domestic and court use, began large-scale production for export to Europe under the reign of the Wanli Emperor (1573-1620). In addition to the most recognisable blue and white porcelains, innovations appeared throughout the Ming Dynasty, such as doucai (鬥彩, contending colours) in the Chenghua period (成化, 1465–1488) and wucai (五彩, five-colour) in the Wanli period (萬歷, 1573–1620) among the many.

Weight 2600 g
Dimensions L 39 x W 15.6 x H 13 cm

Pottery and Porcelain



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