A 'famille-rose' porcelain 'chi dragons and lingzhi' meiping snuff bottle
Jingdezhen, 18101860 6.78cm high.
Treasury 6, no. 1262
A famille-rose porcelain 'chi dragons and lingzhi' meiping snuff bottle
Famille rose enamels on colourless glaze and pale cobalt-blue glaze; of meiping ('prunus-blossom vase') form with a flat lip and recessed flat circular foot surrounded by a convex circular footrim; painted around the upper body with a continuous band of two chi dragons and scrolling lingzhi; the shoulders covered in turquoise enamel; the base covered in cobalt-blue glaze; the foot and interior with colourless glaze Jingdezhen 18101860 Height: 6.78 cm Mouth/lip: 0.74/1.59 cm Stopper: glass, carved with a coiled chi dragon
Condition: possible small chip in the biscuit of the footrim, but it might be part of the original process of manufacture and careless use of the trimming knife; otherwise, in kiln condition
Provenance: Scott Hsieh, Taipei, April 2006
Published: Treasury 6, no. 1262
Lot 31 Commentary This bottle stands out for a number of reasons. Its array of techniques is unusual, combining painted enamels with monochrome enamel (the turquoise shoulders) and glaze (the cobalt-blue lower body). The use of the palette is also unusual: since the only strictly famille rose colour used is the turquoise around the shoulders, the entire painted design is in traditional famille verte enamels. Finally, the design is uncommon: chi dragons ranged against a ground of scrolling lingzhi, the fungus of immortality. Despite these rare characteristics, the bottle is not literally unique; there is another example in Hamilton 1977 , p. 109, P-68.
These mystical fungi, which were decoratively endowed with an unusual range of rather unexpected leaves during the Qing dynasty, are nowhere more fancifully depicted than here. They are often shown in clumps, and more often still as formalized elements in decorative borders, but very rarely as a scrolling motif in the manner of floral scrolls. In Chinese art we are used to seeing multiple lingzhi-heads coming from a single stalk, particularly as the form of ruyi sceptres, and we are used to seeing some rather unconventional, imaginative colours for them, but here we encounter a naturalistically impossible continuous stem growing with well over a dozen heads in a dizzying array of splendidly unlikely colours.
The abundant lingzhi indicate an intense desire for longevity. This universal wish is reinforced by the chilong through their long bodies. Another layer of meaning is also hidden in this composite motif. The lingzhi and the chilong together provide two key sounds that evoke an idiomatic expression, Lingli buru chi, which offers the advice: 'Better to be foolish than too clever'.