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Engraved inscriptions reveal extraordinary 600 year journey of the Mahin Banu
The Mahin Banu ‘Grape’ Dish. Estimate: $2.5/3.5 million. Photo: Sotheby's.

NEW YORK, NY.- In circa 1420 craftsmen from the village of Jingdezhen in Jiangxi province created a magnificent blue and white dish which would become known as The Mahin Banu ‘Grape’ Dish. The piece has passed through some of the most distinguished collections ever assembled and now appears in the Important Chinese Works Of Art sale at Sotheby’s New York on 18 March 2015 with an estimate of $2.5/3.5 million.

Under the Yongle Emperor (r. 1403-24) Chinese porcelain was transformed both in terms of quality and stylistic sophistication but also from a practical item of the imperial household to a commodity with economic and diplomatic potential for the Emperor. Jingdezhen porcelain such as The Mahin Banu Dish is known as the finest of that or any period for its pure white, setting off the intense blue design.

Yongle Porcelain was distributed via both land and sea, often in exchange for horses, which were in short supply in China at this time. More exotically, records indicate that offerings of lions, giraffes, and leopards were also rewarded with gifts of fine silks and porcelain. It is unclear how the dish arrived in Samarkand, the capital of the Timurid Empire in present day Iran. We know nothing about the dish’s first owners, who may have been Timurid royals, but may also have been enterprising merchants, who undertook the dangerous overland voyage into Asia as self-appointed ‘official envoys’ and sold the goods on to rich customers. Five drilled owners’ marks on the dish are testimony to a repeated change of hands while the ular cartouche (vaqf) carved in the center of its base is testimony to ownership by Princess Mahin Banu Khanum (1519-62), the youngest daughter of the Safavid Shah Ismail who was also known as Shahzada Sultanum. Mahin Banu was an extraordinary woman, diplomat, influencer, philanthropist, and collector of porcelain and other treasures.

An inscription on the foot of the dish indicate that it was in the possession of the Mughal Shah Jahan, third son of Emperor Jahangir, who ruled the Mughal Empire from 1628 to 1658 and who is best known for constructing the Taj Mahal as a mausoleum for his wife. Little can be surmised about the subsequent history of this dish, although in the latter half of the 19th and early 20th century, several collections of Chinese porcelain were assembled in India some of them acquired from royal Indian collections.

North America
The dish next surfaces in New York where it was purchased by Alastair Bradley Martin from J.J. Klejman Works of Art in 1967. Mr. Martin and his wife Edith assembled a revered collection of choice masterworks across countless periods and cultures called the Guennol Collection. From 1968-1991 the dish was on loan and display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and was then at The Brooklyn Museum of Art from 1991-2006.

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