Chinese Chinese Porcelain of the 18th C. Famille Rose, Blue and White

A Very Quick Refresher on the Origins of Porcelain Making and The West.

The history of porcelain in China is an exceptionally long one. The first known examples of "Proto Porcelains" have been discovered in kiln sites dating to the Eastern Han Dynasty in the province of Zhejiang  around 1,000 BC. The shards and fragments contain Kaolin and were by their very content required to be fired in wood kilns at very high temperatures 1260 C to 1300 C., thus they are technically porcelain.

Kangxi Soldier vases
Pair of Blue and White Kangxi Period Soldier Vases
From those very early beginnings, almost 2,700 years before the first example was made in Europe in 1709 by two German alchemists Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus  and Johann Friedrich Böttger  German working for Augustus The Strong of Saxony. Resulting in the establishment of the famous Meissen Porcelain Factory in Germany.

From those humble, yet historic beginnings 3,000 years ago Chinese porcelain and pottery making evolved over and over through thousands of;  kilns, varying experimental forms, clay and kaolin formulas, coupled with an un-countable number of applied decorations and glazes.

By the 17th C. Chinese porcelain was sought and coveted around  the known world.  Other than in perhaps China itself, porcelain was valued more in Europe than any place else.

A Case in Point

The aforementioned Augustus the Strong of Saxony (1670-1733) actually traded a full regiment of 600 equipped soldiers to King Fredrik I of Prussia for a group of 151 early Chinese Kangxi period porcelain pieces. Part of this transaction included enormously tall blue and white Kangxi vases and were subsequently named "Dragoon Vases" after the soldiers who were used as barter for their acquisition.

Originally this collection was sent to the west via the French Jesuit Missionary Pere d'Entrecolle then living in Jingdezhen through the British East India Company and presented to Queen Sophia Charlotte of Hanover (1668-1705) who was British, sister to King George I of England and married to King Fredrik I. Upon her death, Fredrik I traded them for soldiers "owned" by Augustus the Strong.  Its a fascinating story and illustrates clearly how much value was placed on these objects.

Blue and white Yuan vases david foundation
Yuan Period Elephant Handle Vases
David Foundation Collection
Other porcelains were of course made and decorated with enamels of every kind available including many colors perfected during the Ming Period (1368-1644), including combinations of under glaze blue and over glaze enamels. Very little enamel ware was made to order for the west initially and tended to adhere stylistically more for the "Chinese taste", though much of it still found it's way into European collector's cabinets. During the Kangxi period the production of Pairs become more common, something rarely seen during the Yuan (1279-1368)  and Ming Period (1368-1644), some do exist but were not typically made until the 17th C. with any regularity when compared to the volume of single vases produced. Most notably among all famous pairs are the from Yuan period and are named  "David Vases"

Perfection of the 18th C. Porcelain

Kangxi Palace vases
Pair of Kangxi Dragoon Vases,
Fine Quality Blue and White 
By the early 18th C. under the Kangxi Emperor (1622-1722) blue and white under glaze decorated porcelain reached what is viewed by many as it's pinnacle. The quality of the cobalt blue now extracted from Chinese mines was superior than the previous cobalt imported from Persia and was at it's best unmatched. When done right, it appears very close to a deep clear pure Sapphire Color. The fired kaolin porcelain was perfectly prepared snow white in color from superb well levigated clay. By the early 1700's porcelains were being produced in Jingdezhen with design influences dictated by the west for that particular market. While still making items purely for use within the country including annual orders of  Imperial pieces made for Kangxi court.

Motifs and Shapes and Patterns

Kangxi Yen yen vases
Fine Kangxi Period "Yen Yen" Vase, Circa 1700
Stong Cobalt Decoration
The shapes utilized by these early 18th C. potters ranged from simple bowls and cups to massive superbly shaped, perfectly proportioned vases. All shapes had specific names of one kind or another; Yen Yen Vase, Rouleau, Bottle Vases, Double Gourd, Meiping, Ginger Jar, Baluster Jar, Moon Flasks, anarchistic bronze forms and so forth. All of these continued to be made straight through into the 21st and are all still made in  Jingdezhen today.

The scenes and patterns used were drawn from all corners of Chinese art and history including religion, poetry, classical landscapes, interior domestic scenes, court scenes, eroticism, dragons, calligraphy, children playing, historic and epic events, battle scenes, gardens, flowers, insects and aquatic life. Yes its endless.

Famille Rose known as Yangcai or Foreign Colors or Fencai or Soft Colors enter China through the Jesuits

Youngzheng Famille Rose plate
Yongzheng Period Famille Rose Dish
Around 1715 a coloring technique perfected in Germany during the 1670's by Dr. Andreas Cassius used in glass making by mixing gold chloride and later in coloring ceramics in Nuremberg. These amazing new colors Yangcai were introduced to the Chinese court by Jesuit Missionary's living in China. Initially these colors were used in the coloring of copper enamels at a Beijing workshop established by Kangxi. Jesuit Father Matteo Ripa in 1716 wrote extensively about the Emperor's reaction and his desire to incorporate these new colors into the Imperial production. By 1720 they had become fairly proficient in creating these new colors and had invented many new shades, including a White Enamel made form arsenic.

Yongzheng (1723-1735)

Fine Famille rose dinner service
Early Qianlong Period Export Porcelain
Following the Death of the Kangxi Emperor in 1722, his fourth son by a Concubine ascended to the throne at the age of 44. His Imperial name was Yongzheng "Absolute Right". During this period, the making of Chinese porcelains entered a period of refinement and elegance under the watchful eye of the court. Resulting in absolutely superb, delicate and very painterly scenes. These included the production of incredibly fine Egg Shell porcelains which as the name implies were thinly potted.

Additionally the Yongzheng period saw a resurgence in making porcelains from models of the Ming period, in particular those of the Chenghua Period (1465-1487). They were even able to replicate the precise tone of the pieces, fine grained body, everted rim, these were as close to as exact copies as could be created. Doucai Chicken Chicken Cups were a particular favorite along with stem cups.

Hongli, The Qianlong Emperor (1735-1795)

Qianlong became the emperor of China at the age of 24 in 1735 following the death of his father Yongzheng. Like his grandfather Kangxi he was a patron of the arts and very liberal compared to his father.

Qianlong period Geese tureens
Qianlong Period Export Goose Tureens, Famille Rose Decoration
He was known as an "enlightened despot" with a curious mind, fascinated by scholarly pursuits, mathematics, astronomy, calligraphy, paintings and loved writing poems. Its is estimated that over his lifetime he wrote over 40,000 of them. Yes he was also a major patron of the arts, on a scale that dwarfed any previous leader of China by a landslide.

During his life he made massive additions to the "Yuan Ming Yuan" also know as The Old Summer Palace. Initially it was called "The Imperial Gardens" and was built  by his grandfather Kangxi. Initially with a small palace but an incredibly elaborate series of gardens. Eventually the building evolved into looking like a French Palace on steroids under Qianlong's rule.

chinese 18th c. Famille rose dinner service
Late Qianlong Period Dinner Service
During Qianlong's reign trade opened to the west on a grand scale resulting in hundreds of ships flooding into China's port of Canton on a regular basis picking up spices, tea, silk and porcelains made to order for the west. By far the vast majority of the ceramics sent to Europe we Famille Rose examples. For many years foreigners we only allowed to trade through Canton due to a basic lack of trust and a fear of outside interference with Chinese culture by the "foreign devils". Canton at this time had a population of over one million people.

From around the mid 1700's onward millions of pieces were produced and shipped for western gold and silver. Some were "stock patterns" others as were produced as custom services depicting Armorial wares with Crests and Coats of Arms of wealthy English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Swedish, Dutch and Portuguese family's. Many orders comprised massive services of hundreds of pieces including a bewildering variety of tureens, covered bowls, chocolate pots, gravy boats, huge serving platters, punch bowls in  some cases almost 3 feet wide. Yes of course they included tea pots, cups, saucers and tea caddies. Many examples were based on European silver forms, sometimes carved wooden models would be used as guides for the potters to follow.
Qianlong Famille rose court ladies
Qianlong Period Famille Rose Court Ladies,
Carrying Lotus Blossoms

During the 18th C. the thousands of large dragon kilns operated, running day and night firing pieces for export as well as filling local demand and of course orders for the Imperial Court. In time, the finest of the export pieces were rivaling those for the Emperor in quality on all levels.

Custom pieces were also produced, porcelain figures of Dutch and English merchants, dancing figures,  lavabo's, massive tureens, in the shape of full bodied Geese. The Peabody Essex Museum has one of the finest collections in the world of these pieces, along with the best China Trade Collection as well. Make a genuine effort to visit the PEM if you get to the Boston area, Salem is 40 Minutes from downtown Boston.

Toward the end of the 18th C. Trade with America began directly...and that's a whole other story.

Feel free to email or call with any questions about your own Chinese porcelains or their values.

Thank you for visiting ~ Peter Combs

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