The TT Tsui collection of Chinese ceramics
Qing Dynasty 1644–1911
porcelain, underglaze blue decoration
This large vase represents the great technical virtuosity of the Chinese potters. China became renowned for its fine porcelain manufacture and ability to produce great numbers of high quality ceramics. Made in two sections, its size also represents the trend in aesthetics towards the monumental, as seen in the large stone funerary sculpture which was also fashionable.
The vase is decorated using cobalt blue. The landscape scenes are a familiar genre, favoured by the literati and popularised through scroll painting. The upper section of the vase features a landscape under moonlight. Two bands of hatched triangles separated by a space containing decorative sprays of bamboo divides the two parts of the vase. The lower section depicts a mountainous landscape, complete with lake and waterfall, small dwelling and human figures. The paintings are skilfully crafted to make a continuous picture, like a never ending journey as one walks around the vase.
The mark on the base is that of the Chenghua period (1465–1488), porcelain manufactured during that period being highly prized. However, it was common practice during the early period of Emperor Kangxi's reign (1662–1722) to use either no mark or an earlier seal.
Enamels had been used since the Yuan dynasty (1279–1368) when knowledge of the cloisonné technique was brought to China, probably by the Persians.
The method of painting enamels directly onto metal, rather than containing the colour in metal 'walls' was introduced to China during the late 17th century, most likely by European traders. Emperor Kangxi (r.1662–1722) was so impressed by the European works brought to his court that he established an Imperial workshop specifically to make this type of enamel ware, often referred to as Canton enamels, after the major trading port.
In this example, the enamels have been painted onto a copper base. The designs are the same as those found on porcelain wares of the period. The body of the vase is bright yellow and contains two large cartouches that have a white ground. The yellow ground is covered with a delicately painted design of clouds and bats, the latter a symbol of good luck.
Peonies and their leaves, symbols of spring and fertility, form a repeating pattern around the base of both the vase and the lid. The pink vegetal bands which encircle the base and rim are reminiscent of highly stylised dragon forms. The central cartouches contain spring scenes of birds on delicate branches in a style popular in Chinese painting.