Imperial Design & Craftsman's Skill
Continuing the development of the Kangxi and Yongzheng reigns (1662-1735), the porcelain with painted enamels of the Qianlong reign (1736-1795) shows the spirit of striving for new designs. From the angles of form, decoraton and collecting history, the Qianlong painted enamels could be interpreted through three sections "Connotation of Poems and Narrative of Paintings", "Novelty of Brilliance", and "Storage and Collection".
"Connotation of Poems and Narrative of Paintings" presents those painted enamels inheriting the imperial exclusive styles from the Yongzheng reign (1723-1735). The works are decorated with the divine painting-like composition by the imperial craftsmen. Including the ancients' poems and seals to match the composition, each design presents the characteristics of the previous emperor, but also changes in the details. On the contrary, yangcai porcelain produced by the Jingdezhen craft masters had incorporated the Emperor's poems into the decorations to reveal the style of this period. "Novelty of Brilliance" shows the innovative decorative ornaments appearing in the Qianlong period, including the shared motifs on yangcai porcelain and falangcai porcelain as well as the characteristics solely for each of them. "Storage and Collection" examines the extant wood storages, to retrace the process of categorizing, storing, and packaging of the old Qing court's collection and new additions of 18th-century potteries.
Connotation of Poems．Narrative of Paintings
This group of works is characterized by decorations taking on the theme of the ancients' poetry and the auspicious meanings delivered by seal stamps. Under the regulation of the court, each step of the creation of a work, from drawings, inscription to reign marks, has a specialist responsible for it. Judged from the inscriptions, most of the works are from the previous emperor's period, and only a few are inscribed with newly selected poems. However, in terms of the interpretation and arrangement of patterns, it focuses more on the richness of the scene, whether it is on the inside or outside of a vessel and the themes are related or not. The imperial craftsmen especially wished to create a bustling and lively atmosphere for the decorative ornaments on painted enamels through the unexpected details.
Vases in Various Styles
The development to final achievement behind accomplishing the techniques of painted enamels, as the story presented by exhibits in Gallery 207, was a success fulfilled after a series of experiments. Nonetheless, as seen from the exhibition, there are mainly plates and bowls, and it was until the Qianlong reign (1736-1795) that the vase production had gradually increased. The reason caused this transition might be more than one. However, the archival records reveal that the emperor had demanded the production of varied vases more than once, and explicitly required to have the enamelling finish, which should be regarded as one of the crucial factors.
Catering for the Qianlong Emperor's ideas on producing and collecting artworks in pair, the decorative arrangement on the Qianlong porcelain in falangcai painted enamels often reveals the ingenuity of one echoing to another. Take porcelain dishes with poems for example. One dish has the design on its left side while the other one has the design on its right side. Ornaments on two dishes also show slightly different techniques. The arrangement presents the feature of designing pairs.
Newly Selected Poems
Since the poems complemented with paintings selected in the Yongzheng reign (1723-1735) mainly sourced from the poetry collection compiled under imperial order of the Kangxi Emperor (1662-1722), the porcelain in falangcai painted enamels produced in the Yongzheng reign could be fundamentally considered as within the same context extended from the Kangxi reign. As seen from the extant pieces, even if the selection of poem had appeared some pieces unseen in the Yongzheng reign, but generally remain within the scope of the Kangxi's poetry collection
Spotlight on Figures
With this gallbladder-shaped vase decorated with landscapes we can interpret the decorative ornaments arranged by the Imperial craft masters. The first scene begins from the bottom of the vase, depicting three long-gowned scholars standing on the riverbank ready to cross, and a boatman punting the raft from across the river. The second scene relocates to the entrance of the woodland, with a scholar leaning on his cane, followed by his valet holding a zither, as they walk to a friend's residence. Possible intention to portray the moment of dusk, the third scene captures an industrious woodcutter carrying chopped timbers on his way out of the woods; as we trace his footsteps forward, we can notice a sight-seeing figure leaning against the window.
The sceneries and figures painted in red falangcai pigments are known as the red landscapes. In the third year of the Qianlong reign (1738), he held a copper snuff bottle with red landscapes, and complimented on the brilliance of its drawings. As the result, the craftsmen in the imperial workshops had transferred the red landscapes onto the porcelains.
Towers and Pavilions in Mountains of the Immortals
Ever since the 16th century, the palaces from the Tang and Han dynasties had been embraced by the workshops in Suzhou Province as the significant inspirations to create paintings. Relatively speaking, the motif of "Towers and Pavilions in Mountains of the Immortals" appeared on the porcelain in falangcai painted enamels from the Qianlong reign should be regarded as an innovated pattern that coloured and enriched the polychrome paintings of the Yongzheng reign. According to the archives, it was no later than the 5th year of the Qianlong reign (1740) that this type of decoration had been produced.
Motifs Based on Imperial Album of Painting
This porcelain vase in front of you has a similar shape with the token of backgammon ( Shuanglu ) in the ancient painting. Therefore, this vase is called Shuanglu vase. This work is coated with light blue glaze and painted with pink peach blossoms. The composition and colour remind of ‘Peach Blossoms' in the album "Gathered Fragrance of Collected Beauty" by Jiang Tingxi (1669-1732). It reflects that under the control of the emperor and the pottery supervisor, motifs on the yangcai porcelain wares produced by the Imperial kilns were designed possibly based on the imperial album of painting.
Imperial Poems by the Qianlong Emperor
Is it true? This emperor claimed that his leisure activity was writing poems. In all his life, he had written more than forty thousand pieces. As seen on the exhibits, the yangcai artworks produced in Jingdezhen are adorned with Imperial poems, with diverse contents that consist of the poems complemented with paintings that serve dual purposes, reflections and thoughts across four seasons, and even sights while crossing a bridge
On the bottom of a bowl in general, there is a platform to have contact with the tabletop, which in pottery terms is named the "ring foot", and so the bowl with a body could be revolving on the ring foot is known as the "foot-revolving bowl." In 1744, Tang Ying presented nine styles of porcelains including the double-layered vase with open works and intricate revolving design. In the following year (1745), the Archive of the Imperial Workshop also recorded a piece of "large stemmed bowl with poem and landscape in yangcai painted enamels on a stand", due to the close timings of these two events, which reveals the production timeline of this type of artworks.