Arita porcelain drug jar for the Dutch market, £54,000 at Woolley & Wallis.

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As well as more exotic decorative wares, it included ‘various (small) porcelain bottles, (small) pots, salve and preserve pots for the surgeon’s shop in Batavia, made according to the samples sent’.

Other similar orders for utilitarian wares were passed for ‘large and small medicine pots’ to be shipped to Taiwan.

The rare jar offered by Woolley & Wallis (26/20% buyer’s premium) in Salisbury on May 23 was possibly made as part of one of these orders.

Although outwardly similar to the tin glazed earthenware dry drug jars or albarello made in many European countries in the 17th century, it is made in a heavily potted porcelain.

The underglaze blue ‘label’ with a narrow blank cartouche for writing the contents is also embellished with a curious moustached male harpy wearing a neck ruff while perched on an orb. Its inspiration may have been an armorial used by the monastery or apothecary that provided a sample to copy.

Similar vessels are known – another blue and white jar is in the Ashmolean Museum’s Japanese export porcelain collection – but this piece is an unrecorded and possibly unique example.

Offered for sale at £5000-8000, it raced away to bring £54,000, the top-selling Japanese lot of the recent series of Asian art sales.