Every month we present a special object from the Aronson Antiquairs’ collection. This month we would like to show you this lovely blue and white plate that is decorated with figures playing the ancient Chinese game of “Go.” The timeless subject echoes with the news when a computer recently outsmarted its human opponent in the strategic match.
In 1644, the importation of Ming Chinese porcelain by the VOC dramatically decreased because of a war in China. Many Dutch potters viewed this as a promising opportunity to enter the market that was previously dominated by China. Imitating the style from the East, potters created a counterpart to Chinese porcelain in the production of Delftware. Factories adapted the popular Chinese style of decoration, using variations that conformed to local tastes. This very delicate chinoiserie plate perfectly illustrates the genius of Delft painters in their appropriation of the Chinese style in combination with Delft decorative motifs. A Chinese porcelain vase of the Qing period (1662-1722) attests to the influence of Chinese imagery in Delftware.
The scene depicted on the plate shows three Chinese figures in a pavilion. Like the blue painting on the vase, the characters are sharply focused on a game at the center of the composition. The stones and the game board seem to indicate that the players are facing each other at a battle of Go (围棋). The game opposes two players, whose respective goal is to conquer the most territory possible. Taking turns placing stones on the vacant spaces of the board, players try to surround their opponent’s stones, which consequently become prisoners. The player with the most territory and prisoners is the winner.
The ancient game of strategy originated 3,000 years ago in China, and continues to be played today. Several legends narrate its invention. In one, two dragons, Heizi (black) and Baizi (white), were engaged in an epic battle of strength. To determine the winner, the gods invented the game of Go. According to the story, the two opponents are still playing today. Another legend attributes its creation to the Chinese emperors, Yao and Shun, who wanted to teach their respective son discipline, concentration, and balance. The apparent simplicity of the game and the self questioning it involves makes it a powerful tool for personal development.
Intuition and creativity are essential tools to win the game, two fields in which we thought the human brain was superior to the machine. The recent victory of a computer called AlphaGo against the Go world champion have forced us to reconsider this conviction. After three and a half hours of intense struggle, Lee Se-Hol, world champion of Go, seeing that he could not escape the tirelessness of the computer, sadly decided to withdraw.
Blue and White Chinoiserie Plate
Delft, circa 1695
Marked AK in blue for Adriaen Kocx, the owner of De Grieksche A (The Greek A) Factory from 1686 to 1701
Painted in the center with a Chinese pavilion interior with a bearded Chinese sage approaching a lady seated at a table set with a teacup and saucer, a vase of flowers and a bowl, and being entertained by a man seated on the floor before her at a low table between a fan, a censer and a floral sprig, beyond the open balustraded wall a crane strolls beside a pierced rock and a flowering tree peony in a hilly garden, the scene within a roundel encircled with two concentric lines and a blossom and foliate-scroll border, and the rim with an elaborate floral and foliate border interrupted with four European-type heads wearing exotic headdresses.
Diameter: 24.9 cm. (9 13/16 in.)
The collection of D. F. H. Fentener van Vlissingen (1882-1962), Utrecht, and thence by family descent
De Jonge, 1947, p. 203, pl. 179;
De Jonge, 1970, p. 45, ill. 37
Price: € 5.250 (appr. GBP£ 4,200, or export US$ 6,000)