A 'famille-rose' enamelled porcelain 'cricket' snuff bottle
Imperial kilns, Jingdezhen, Daoguang iron-red four-character seal mark and of the period, 1821-1850 Sold with accompanying watercolour by Peter Suart 5.8cm high.
Treasury 6, no. 1318
A 'famille-rose' enamelled porcelain ' katydid' snuff bottle
Famille-rose enamels on colourless glaze on porcelain; with a slightly convex lip and concave foot; painted each on main side with a katydid, one a bit smaller in scale and standing on its tipped-over carrying basket, which is decorated with a pattern of formalized swastikas and sauvastikas (wan symbols), a formalized leaf pattern around the mouth, and a formalized lotus-petal design around the base, the lid of the basket lying to the left; the foot of the bottle inscribed in iron-red seal script, Daoguang nian zhi ('Made during the Daoguang period'); the lip, inner neck, and interior glazed Imperial kilns, Jingdezhen, 18211850 Height: 5.8 cm Mouth/lip: 0.7/1.78 cm Stopper: coral; turquoise collar
Condition: some minor surface wear; otherwise, kiln condition
Provenance: Gerry P. Mack Gerd Lester (1986)
Published: JICSBS, Autumn 1989, p. 16 Treasury 6, no. 1318
Wang Shixiang 1993 identifies six different insects bred for their winter chirping. They are guoguo (katydid); zhazui (a smaller katydid); youhulu (a large cricket); ququ (cricket); bang'ertou and jinzhong (two further varieties of the Grilidae family). These insects, either captured or bred, were kept in small cages so that their merry chirping might be enjoyed. Wang tells us that there are different shaped gourd cages for the different varieties of chirping insect, although he does not illustrate one of this unusually bulbous form, which, in any case, does not resemble a standard cricket cage so much as a small carrying basket. Although frequently referred to as 'cricket bottles', the popular range of nineteenth-century porcelain snuff bottles represented here are usually decorated with katydids, either the guoguo or the zhazui, and not crickets. Katydids are predominantly green in colour, although often with brown legs and a partially brown back and head, and are fatter in the lower body than crickets. They were kept mainly for their sound rather than as fighting insects. A large katydid, with a fat body that can be four or five centimetres long and often possessing brilliant colouring, is a truly impressive insect, even more impressive than their depictions on the bottles, which are quite accurate.
The design was a favourite well into the nineteenth century, but reached its greatest popularity as an imperial subject during the Daoguang period, when sets of porcelain bottles were produced with various katydid designs in relatively large quantities. There are many examples known, including an enormous group in the Barron Collection, and they continued to be produced into the Guangxu period. The popularity of the design must have been a by-product of the rising star of the insects themselves, as evidenced by the mid-Qing period proliferation of mass-produced gourd carriers for them. Prior to the Jiaqing reign, moulded-gourd cricket carriers were a relatively small proportion of the overall output of decorative gourds, but by the Daoguang reign they were vastly in the majority and being produced in apparently very large numbers. Whether this reflects an increased interest in the cheerful chirping of these small creatures, or merely a shift in the fashion for caging them is not so certain.
There are two main types of design for this range of katydid bottles. The first is a simple, profile view of the insect, and the second is an insect in combination with its carrier, usually a gourd. This bottle combines the two. Before gourd carriers became so popular in the mid-Qing period, the insects were kept in what looked like miniature bird cages, and these are sometimes pictured in place of a gourd carrier. Although a first impression suggests a gourd is depicted here, such vessels are never decorated on the inside, whereas the exterior design here is echoed within, suggesting a woven design, however complex and unlikely.