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The Bowl: Chinese Porcelain of Qing Dynasty

The Bowl: Chinese Porcelain of Qing Dynasty

The chosen object of art is called “The Bowl” and dates back to the 18th century AC. Coated with the glazed porcelain, the bowl belongs to the Chinese culture legacy, precisely to the Qing dynasty (1644-1912). I have chosen this object of art among all others because of its coloring and floral ornaments. As it is known, the green color stands for nature and wealth, and the white color means longevity and royalty. Therefore, a pale-green background embellished with white flowers seemed to us a symbol of the nature’s generosity.

As for the bowl’s description, the ample capacity of this large vessel is complemented with floral decorations. The peach, pomegranate, and citron are divided by sprays of blossoming flowers. Everything is interspersed with clouds above three small springs of chrysanthemum, begonia, and dianthus. Both interior and exterior grounds are of bluish green celadon; the flowers and clouds were left white until coated with a pale green glaze to allow them to stand out on the finished object. Like any other Chinese object of art, the bowl was meant to be not just a piece of ware. In the aspect of form and content, one form involves several connotations as they relate to historical, social, and religious contexts.

Historically, the bowl appeared in the 18th century under the reign of the Qing dynasty. Since Europe did not know the secrets of porcelain art up until the 18th century, China was the only source of it. Due to this monopoly, the production of porcelain ware was in height during the Qing Dynasty. At that time, Jingdezhen city of Jiangxi province was the greatest center of porcelain for both domestic use and export. Therefore, most probably, the bowl was created in a kiln of Jingdezhen and exported abroad.

As far as social context is concerned, ornamentation of ware and garments represented a class status. Before porcelain appeared, the social ranking had been measured by quantity and quality of gold and jade minerals on the clothes and objects in use. We can notice the same tendency with the apparition of porcelain. The most exquisite and expensive pieces of porcelain art belonged to the royal court. Higher-ranking functionaries and merchants used more modest things that were still decorated with animalistic and floral patterns.

Granted that the bowl remained in excellent condition, apparently, it was not in daily use. Therefore, I think the object was either exported in the 18th century and taken to the private collection or it was just rarely used by its owners back in China.

In the religious aspect, decorations on the ware items usually bore implicit meanings. In Chinese culture, the signification of a symbol is strongly connected with the way this word is pronounced. Hence, technically speaking, each picture refers to a rebus, a hint to the symbol’s content. Those words that have good-natured and positive meanings refer as Auspicious Symbols.

The bowl is ornamented with plants and clouds. There are three species of fruit tree represented on the exterior side of the vessel – the peach, pomegranate, and persimmon. Additionally, there are six flowers on the bowl – the chrysanthemum, lotus, peony, dianthus, begonia, and mallow.

As Patricia Welch writes, the first three trees – the peach, pomegranate, and citron – represent the Three Abundances (sanduo 三多). They embody longevity, progeny, and happiness respectively. Chrysanthemum is a symbol for forever. Thus, the flower embodies the longevity as well as the peony. Being a sacred flower of Buddha, the lotus flower stands for continuous harmony. The peony, lotus, chrysanthemum, and persimmon mean each season of the year: the peony for spring, lotus for summer, chrysanthemum for autumn, and persimmon for winter.

As for the clouds, in China, this natural phenomenon has been worshiped since the ancient times. Since clouds bring water, they were very important for agriculture. Therefore, the image of clouds was commonly used in decoration of clothes and ware as a sign of wealth.

The “clouds and flowers” ornament appeared under the Tang Dynasty’s rule. In the Chinese language, the word cloud is pronounced the same way as the word luck – yun. Therefore, clouds are considered as an auspicious symbol of fortune. In my opinion, the flowers and clouds ornament on the bowl symbolizes a wish for continuous wealth and fertility over all seasons for a full due time.

In order to see the main idea of the object, we should take into consideration a wider historical and artistic context of the age. To start with, in the 14th century, when China engaged in the large international commerce, the ware technique considerably improved and transformed. The state kilns, inactive before, were put under restoration works. As a result, by the 16th century, there were three hundred workshops opened in Jingdezhen (province of Jiangxi). Finally, in the 18th century, with an increase of sea commerce, the art of porcelain ware reached its reviviscence. The bowl was created exactly at this period.

Due to the improvement of the white porcelain mixture, artists discovered new possibilities in the decoration of a vessel’s surface. The craftsmen perceived a vessel as a white canvas to paint on it. As a result, new techniques and forms appeared. Although, we have noticed that in spite of the seeming freedom, each ornament is strictly organized and subdue to the vessel’s curves. As everyone can acknowledge, there is nothing unintentional or erratic in the bowl’s ornaments.

The glazes, with which artists had covered the ware, were numerous and varied. The celadon is a special glaze type of all shades of green. The celadon porcelain produced in Jingdezhen was covered with lustrous holly green, pea green, or powdery green glazes. The coloring is obtained in a kiln under the oxidation-reduction reaction when ferrous oxide particles penetrate the clay and glaze. While initially, green celadon was meant to imitate the jade mineral, soon it became popular on its own. The powdery green and pale plum celadon had been praised as the most valuable and exquisite among the glazed porcelain ware. The bowl under discussion was coated with powder green celadon in a plant of Jingdezhen. Therefore, it represents one of the finest examples of porcelain art.

More to say, in the 18th century, the pink enamel was discovered and it found its extensive use in combination of the enamel of different colors. Later in Europe, according to coloring of the prevailing glaze, they started to differentiate porcelain onto families – the green, yellow, black, and pink. Thus, ware objects, completely or partially covered with the green glaze are referred to the famille vert of the Chinese ware. Therefore, at that time, the porcelain items knew a wide variety of shapes and sizes, and many figurines were created.  

Summing up the above-mentioned historical, social, religious, and artistic aspects of the Qing Dynasty porcelain ware, we have made three following observations. Having analyzed the ornamentation images depicted on the bowl’s surface, we have concluded that this object of art not only identified a social status of the owner, but also served him as an amulet. The purpose of the amulet was to activate protection of the supreme forces that were pictured in the ornament.

The following conclusion, resulted from the first observation, regards the origin of the bowl. With the bowl being an amulet, its owner could present it to a close person, relative, or friend as an auspicious wish of wealth and longevity. That is, the bowl can neither be exported nor bought into private ownership, but it can be granted as a gift.  For instance, a guest visiting China in the 18th century could have earned the gratitude of some merchant or functionary, and received the bowl as an auspicious charm. 

The third and last conclusion is regarding an exact meaning of all the ornaments.  Having analyzed all the significations standing underneath the images, we have come to observation that there are five of them. Although the images and symbols are numerous and various – three trees, six species of flowers, clouds, and coloring scheme, – all of them embody five auspicious wishes – the longevity, wealth, luck, progeny, and success. It seems that in the Chinese culture, these are five components of the happiness.


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