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Subject:Porcelain "transparency" Chinese bowl
Posted By: Phil P. Mon, Mar 12, 2012 IP:

Hello there,

I have recently seen this quite rare (to me) Chinese bowl.

It seems made using an interesting technique (an internal hidden decoration is revealed when light is applied).
Can anybody teach me something about this? What period? How rare is it and how sought after?

I have the feeling the work is quite poor in terms of decoration (the dragon, the written caracters and the mark are poorly executed; could even look Japanese in "throwing") - the shape being fine and the walls thin-, but I assume this technique doesn't really help in producing excellent pieces in terms of "internal" decoration.

Note it may well also be a fake, reproducing the fine technique, but resulting in a poor quality example; I do not know. My guess would be that such technique is too complicated (too expensive) to be easily reproduced. Besides, in my humble and unexperienced opinion, the foot rim reveals a quite good quality porcelain.

Thanks for your feedbacks!!


NB: other (small pics) will hopefully follow tomorrow on this same thread.

PS: My apologies for the small pics; always limited regarding size. I may send additional pictures by mail.

Subject:Re: Porcelain "transparency" Chinese bowl
Posted By: Anthony J Allen Tue, Mar 13, 2012

Hi Phil,
I recall these anhua bowls first appeared in the late 1980's or early 1990's. I have not seen them recently.
The decoration was usually of dragons and could be in one of several colours.

Subject:Re: Porcelain "transparency" Chinese bowl
Posted By: Kim Thu, Jul 18, 2019

I know this post is several years old, however, I am hoping someone can provide some insight into a bowl that was acquired by my family 15 years ago. There is a hidden dragon and phoenix and a molded Guan mark on the bottom.

Subject:Re: Porcelain "transparency" Chinese bowl
Posted By: Phil P. Tue, Mar 13, 2012

Here for the additional pictures, as promised.

Looking forward to any feedback.

All my best!

PS: The first image depicts the writting between dragons' tails (one on each side). The second shows a portion of the inner wall, with light being applied outside.

Subject:Re: Porcelain "transparency" Chinese bowl
Posted By: Roger D Wed, Mar 14, 2012

The mark on your porcelain bowl reads "Nei Foo" translating to "Inner Court" or "Inside the palace". It is a lithopane, made for the Vietnamese Court at Hue in the early to mid 19th century. Yours is a quality piece, not to be confused with the blue and white crockery made in the same era and bearing some form of the "nei foo" mark.

Subject:Re: Porcelain "transparency" Chinese bowl
Posted By: Phil P. Thu, Mar 15, 2012

Hello Roger, hello Anthony,

Thanks for both your replies.
I was thinking the bowl could have been a quite recent Chinese one and never had believed it could actually be of another origin.

I do not know anything in Vietnamese porcelain (I even know nothing about Chinese porcelain indeed), so I trust the second opinion as the general shape and quality seems of some value. I feel (a feeling!) this could be right.

Not my piece, but this was offered to me for an eventual sale - I have declined. Was I wrong?


Answers appreciated.



Subject:Re: Porcelain "transparency" Chinese bowl
Posted By: Roger D Fri, Mar 16, 2012

You didn't mention the price in the offer, but I bought two similar pieces in Hanoi in 1995 and though not for sale, recent offers have ranged from $300.00 to $500.00 each.

Subject:Re: Porcelain "transparency" Chinese bowl
Posted By: Anthony J Allen Fri, Mar 16, 2012

Hi Phil,
Sorry, I do not believe this was made for the Vietnamese Court in the 19th century.
There is another anhua (secret decoration)example, of slightly different shape, for sale in Auckland on 27th March. See Cordy's Auction Lot 242. The estimate is NZD$150 or USD127.

Perhaps Roger can show us a documented 19th century example.

Subject:Re: Porcelain "transparency" Chinese bowl
Posted By: Roger D Mon, Mar 19, 2012

The piece included in the Cordy's auction is not anywhere similar to Phil's bowl. The decoration on Anhua "hidden picture" pieces are seen or felt by the incised lines or on some, blue under glaze scenes. An early Ming Anhua vase was sold at Christie's in September 2008, for $2,770,500.00, and a blue decorated bowl was sold at Christie's for $2172.00 in 2004. With an estimated value of US$127.00 one must conclude that the Cordy's piece is not genuine.The auction catalog noted that there are characters in the design but did not identify them.

I find no record of any Anhua pieces with the "Nei Foo" mark made specifically for the Vietnamese Court, but the mark was used on some "Bleu de Hue" ordered by the Vietnamese Court. (The mark would not have been applied to pieces of general merchandise.)

But Phil's bowl (and mine) are typical of the pieces ordered from China in the mid-19th century by the Nguyen Dynasty Court, by way of diplomatic missions.The mark and era have been acknowledged by a number of collectors,dealers,and galleries, including: Gotheborg,Ichiban, Eloge de l'Art par Alain Truong,The Marks of China Ceramics, The Collector, etc.

My pieces are now at my other home in Jakarta, but I will photograph them for comparison when I am next there.

Subject:Re: Porcelain "transparency" Chinese bowl
Posted By: Anthony J Allen Mon, Mar 19, 2012

Hi Phil,
I had forgotten that in Fig. 98 of my out of print book, "Allen's Authentication of Later Chinese Porcelain", I had illustrated a similarly undeglaze (red & blue) decorated vase, bearing the same two character marks. I bought this new in Hong Kong circa 1997/1998.

Subject:Re: Porcelain "transparency" Chinese bowl
Posted By: Anthony J Allen Tue, Mar 20, 2012

Hi Roger,
I beg to differ with your comment that Phil's bowl is typical of the pieces ordered from China in the mid-19th century by the Nguyen Dynasty Court.

If they are typical, please show me a published example from a reputable source.

I have attached a photo of the similarly decorated vase I bought new in Hong Kong in 1998.

It is not safe to assume a date of manufacture solely from a mark. The "powdery" foot rim and unusual colored blue are both indicators of late 20th century manufacture. The underglaze colors on these pieces, in addition to red and blue shown, included yellow (and I think green). Yellow & green were not available until the 20th century.

Subject:Re: Porcelain "transparency" Chinese bowl
Posted By: Roger D Fri, Mar 23, 2012

Phil's bowl does not have red, green or yellow, so those colors are not a factor. I do not doubt however, that the vase you illustrate is a modern decorative piece.

It appears that the only color on Phil's piece is blue, and that color has been available on Anhua since 1732.

"It is noteworthy that the palace archives record that the Yongzheng emperor made specific reference to the merit of these new porcelains with blue enamel landscapes on two occasions in 1732.

'The twenty-eighth day of the tenth month, 1732 The enamel landscape in blue is quite well done. Give ten taels of silver in reward for the enamel paintings done by Tsou Wen-yu.' (11)

The teacups and winecups with landscape decoration in blue are all quite fine, paint more of these.'(12)

The fourth day of the second month, 1724, Prince Yin-hsiang handed over five white egg shell wine cups, two of which had a veiled d/aecor [anhua] of dragons on the interiors. Obey the order to decorate them with enamel. By Imperial Command. On the twenty-third day of the second month, two pieces were broken during the firing process; the supervising eunuch informed Prince Yin-hsiang of this matter. Under order from the Prince, the remaining three pieces should be fired with the utmost caution. By Imperial Command. On the eighteenth day of the fifth month, the Prince presented three white porcelain wine cups with enamel decor' (3)

(3) National Palace Museum, Special Exhibition of Ch'ing Dynasty Enamelled Porcelains of the Imperial Ateliers, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1992, p. 13.

(11) National Palace Museum, op. cit., p. 16.

(12) National Palace Museum, op. cit., p. 16-7.

Without actually examining Phil's bowl, I am asuming that it is of the same high quality porcelain and workmanship as mine. While I do not have any "published examples from a reputable source," I am comfortable with the judgment by reputable collectors who have handled and examined my bowls.


Subject:Re: Porcelain "transparency" Chinese bowl
Posted By: Anthony J Allen Sat, Mar 24, 2012

Hi Roger,
The references you refer to are in relation to enamelling. This is underglaze blue.

I have since inspected Cordy's bowl and can confirm it has the same two marks as on Phil's. Phil also refers to the poor quality of potting, which it shares with the Cordy bowl.

Do you really believe that an 18th century Imperial bowl is going to sell for $300 or $500?

I stand by my earlier assertion that these are a modern production.


Subject:Re: Porcelain "transparency" Chinese bowl
Posted By: Phil P. Mon, Mar 26, 2012

Dear Anthony, dear Roger,

This thread has been very interesting thus far. My knowledge being very limited, I can only read your comments and not act as some kind of arbiter here.

I do not think I have ever written about the poor quality of potting of this bowl (which is not mine, even if I feel complimented with the "Phil's bowl" designation), but my English is limited and I may have given that impression. My comments about a poor quality were more linked to the calligraphy (+ mark) and the apparent transparent decoration. Nothing that would look imperial in my humble opinion, particularly for the calligraphy and the mark (!), but I do not know anything about Vietnamese pottery and calligraphy, so my -Chinese- standards may be misleading. Still my "standards" are that of one beginner.
NB: It would also be important to note that as I didn't know ANYTHING by the time of my first post, I presumed that the internal decoration may have been difficult to make, thus eventually explaining its quality.

I guess it would be fine that you agree to disagree if at some point you do not find common ground, but to eventually help you further decide, I may propose to send you more -and bigger- pictures by mail so you may at least better define this bowl for yourselves, and also maybe keep a record of these images if that is of interest to you (this would stand for Roger, I guess).

Let me know if I may use your e-mail adresses for a direct communication, please, so I may proceed.

If silent observers also want me to share some illustrations, please let me know by posting a message here with the appropriate e-mail contact (you may also contact me privately, but this option will more probably let me forget someone). I would prefer to not send the same e-mail 20 times, so let me know as soon as possible, so I may Bcc (hidden destinatory) all of you.

With many thanks for the fascinating debate.

Kind regards,


Subject:Re: Porcelain "transparency" Chinese bowl
Posted By: Roger D Tue, Mar 27, 2012

Thanks, Phil. Yes, I would appreciate having some additional photos to study and to take with me on my next trip to Asia.

I will let you know of any new information I can gather.


Subject:Re: Porcelain "transparency" Chinese bowl
Posted By: Dimitris Sun, May 04, 2014

Hi to all,
It was 2012 when you having this conversation and now is 2014. So you may not see my comment.
I own a same bowl from China. I bout it in Shanghai on 2007 from a guy in the streets who drag me in to his house and show me several pieces of pottery. I bout 2 one thin celadon green bowl with a dragon and phoenix decoration he said from song dynasty and one with this hidden decoration. He was very poor and I pay for both 50 euro's even if I knew that it was very expensive. I ask a Chinese friend a woman to translate the letters and she said in old days they use it. it means inside the house so the owners not to use the same bowls with the guests. That's what she said. my bowl is not thin is thick and at the base it has this "ring" of porcelain and you can twist it. it's like 2 pieces. It also has mark at the bottom from maker.
I ask 3-4 years ago an expert in Sotheby's and he said it's probably new, not fake but 18th 19th c. I don't have picture to send but if I remember it I will. By the way you help me with your comments.

Subject:Re: Porcelain "transparency" Chinese bowl
Posted By: George Thu, Sep 11, 2014

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