Chinese Ceramic Highlights

  1. Small porcelain dish painted with symbols of longevity and good fortune.

Qing dynasty, Yongzheng period, 1723-1735 1938.P.44

This small porcelain dish is beautifully painted with underglaze and overglaze decoration, all of which is highly symbolic. The interior shows five bats flying between a peach tree and ocean waves. The peach tree is associated with immortality and abundance. Five is a fortunate number and the colour red is associated joy and happiness. The five red bats represent five fortunes variously described as health, prosperity, wealth, happiness and longevity, as well as joy.

The combination of bats and the peach tree is particularly associated with birthdays (‘wufu-qingshou’ – ‘five bats celebrate a birthday’), while the combination of five bats and waves is a wish for great happiness (‘shoushan-fuhai’ -‘happiness like the East Sea is never ending’).

The exterior of the dish is decorated with repeated pairs of red bats alternated with peach branches, one of which has the character ‘shou’, again symbolising longevity.

The base is painted in blue with the reign mark of the Yonzheng Emperor within a double circle

This is one of a number of identical dishes commissioned to wish the Yongzheng Emperor a long life and there are examples in both Chinese and European museums.

The Yongzheng Emperor died at the comparatively early age of 56 and, while there are various stories about his death, it is generally agreed that his death was as a result of poisoning. Ironically this is said to have been through consuming too much of the ‘elixir of immortality’ which contained the poisons mercury and arsenic.

2. Porcelain dish with underglaze blue painted decoration.

Qing dynasty, Qianlong period, 1736-1795. 1938.P.136

The decoration of this dish depicts a mother and child playing in a garden, while on the rim are painted four of the eight Precious Objects: a pair of books, open lozenge, jewel and an artemesia leaf. The same four symbols are painted on the reverse.  This example dates from the period of the Qianlong Emperor but the design had been known in the West since the late 17th century, when large quantities of Chinese porcelain started to be imported into Europe by the East India Companies

This design and variations on it became very popular in England and were widely copied by potters from the mid-18th century onwards. Porcelain factories, such as Bow, in London, and Worcester produced their own finely painted close copies, while factories, such as Spode in Staffordshire, subsequently produced printed version of the design, which they called ‘Jumping Boy’, well into the 19th century.

3. Cylindrical porcelain mug with underglaze blue decoration

Qing dynasty, Qianlong period, c.1780 709

This cylindrical porcelain mug painted with underglaze blue decoration in an example of the type of wares being made in China for the European market in the late 18th century. The shape, and in particular, the crossed handles with their distinctive flowered terminals, are typical of English wares. From the middle of the 18th century the Chinese potteries were exporting such huge quantities of porcelain to Europe via the East India Companies that they were willing to adapt their output to their customers’ requirements.

The body of this mug has a raised spotted-textured ground with a blue-painted landscape with pagoda, trees and etc., in a reserved panel which is framed in gilt and has floral sprays to either side. There is additional gilding to the blue border under the rim with butterflies and flowers, and gilding to the handle terminals and rim.  The gilding would have been added in Europe by a specialist decorator in order to make the mug more desirable to the customer.

4. Earthenware model of a camel with head thrown back.

Tang dynasty, 618-907AD. 1948P94

Earthenware model of a camel in buff-coloured earthenware body with orange and cream glaze, standing, with its head thrown back, on a rectangular base.

Tang dynasty models of camels serve as a reminder of the activity of foreign merchants who, for hundreds of years travelled with their camel trains to trade along the Silk Road, between China and the West. This camel is a funerary sculpture, made to accompany the deceased into the afterlife.  All sorts of figures were produced from animals to human figures and models of buildings, during the period from the Han to the Tang dynasties.

Since they were made to be buried in tombs and not for export, pottery figures like these were rarely seen in Europe until the early 20th century, when they began to be collected by individuals and museums.