Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Colourful Straits Chinese Porcelains (1)

The Straits Chinese, in typical Chinese fashion, normally consider blue and white as mourning colours. Also, porcelain originally was better suited for keeping dishes warm on the dining table. However, for the Straits Chinese, they are more than that, and only the more colourful porcelain were used during auspicious occasions.

Straits Chinese porcelain or Nyonya ware, is basically over glaze polychrome enamelled porcelain. The term 'over glaze' means that the enamel was applied over the glazed porcelain objects and re fired a second time at a lower temperature. Most of the enamel used for decorating Straits Chinese porcelain is of the famille rose type. However, Straits Chinese porcelain is not usually considered to be typical famille rose porcelain. Typical famille rose porcelain preferred by the Chinese and Europeans usually depicted more realistic artwork, depicting various subject matters against minimal background embellishments. Straits Chinese porcelain, on the other hand, was densely decorated with various Chinese symbols of good fortune in dazzling, contrasting colours.

The daring combination of colours that characterises Straits Chinese porcelain reflects the typical Nyonya aesthetic. Here is where Chinese tastes in porcelain differed from Nyonya tastes. While most Chinese prefer a minimal palette of colours for their porcelain, Nyonyas went for crowded decorations rendered in sharp contrasts of colour. Commonly, a hodgepodge of rose pink and yellow motifs on a background of lime green would have certainly offended the tastes of the discerning Chinese scholar and the European elite, but these were the decorations and colours that delighted the Nyonyas. The Nyonya liking for colour was not restricted to porcelain. For instant, the kebayas and batik sarungs they wore were riots of colour, and so were the bead work and embroidery they executed for their shoes and other decorative items. For the Nyonyas, the more motifs and colours packed into an item, the more pleasing it was.

Various motifs can be found on Straits Chinese porcelain. While it is unclear whether the Nyonyas who commissioned this porcelain knew what each motif symbolised, it is apparent that they clearly understood the meaning of frequently recurring motifs such as the phoenix, crane, peony and the double happiness character. Otherwise, these motifs would not recur. The symbolism of motifs, be it plants, animals or inanimate objects is more clearly defined in Chinese culture. Since the motifs found among Straits Chinese porcelain and the style in which they are rendered are obviously of Chinese origins, it would not be off the mark if they were deciphered based on Chinese motif symbolism. Thus, much of the interpretation of the motifs is based on Chinese texts on the subject. Perhaps the most repeated motif in Straits Chinese porcelain is the 'Phoenix And Peony' motif as well as the stylised lotus petal panels.

The 'phoenix and peony' motif comes from a well known category of Chinese painting called 'bird and flower painting' because the subjects depicted are birds and flowers. 'Birds and flower painting' are itself derived from two broader categories of Chinese painting, that of 'birds, the animals' and 'flowers'.

The phoenix, known as the Emperor of the feathered tribe, is a mythical long-tailed bird that symbolises the female principal, or yin, and is often depicted as a cross between a pheasant and a peacock. Its feather of five colours stands for the five cardinal virtues of righteousness, prosperity, wisdom, humility and sincerity. Placed second among the four supernatural creatures (behind the dragon, and before the unicorn and the tortoise), the phoenix is believed to rule over the South, and associated with the colour red, symbolising solar warmth and summer harvest. The Chinese believe that the phoenix can only be seen in times of peace, so the bird also symbolises harmony and worldly order.

Peony, 'King Of Flowers' or 'Flower Of Wealth And Honour' is perhaps the most esteemed and beloved flower among the Chinese. It was said to have originated from Luoyang in China, hence it is also known as Luoyang flower. Peony is a symbol of spring and female beauty, and of love and affection. It also stands for good fortune and nobility. Chinese artists frequently paint a series of flower paintings based on the seasons, with the peony as the flower of spring. This is because the peony, which grows in small bushes, produces its large fragrant blossoms in spring. (The other flowers symbolising the seasons are lotus for summer, chrysanthemum for autumn and plum blossom for winter.) The peony is also sometimes seen as a flower of the yang, or male principle. A healthy peony bush that has many blossoms is considered an omen of good fortune. However, if it shrivels suddenly, it is a bad sign. Paired with the phoenix in numerous Straits Chinese porcelain examples, the 'phoenix and peony' is a symbol of the bride and celebrates everything that the Straits Chinese consider desirable in a bride femininity, faithfulness to her husband, filial piety, chastity, youthfulness and female beauty.

The Eight Buddhist Emblems are usually featured in between diaper patterns or along the borders of porcelain objects such as the edges of plates and bowls. A flaming pearl is sometimes depicted in place of one of the symbols. The motifs are often complimented with lotus sprays or ribbons. Originating from Tibetan Lama art and introduced into China during the Yuan dynasty, the Eight Buddhist Emblems motif is made up of emblems that were depicted on the sole of the Buddha's foot. The motif was especially popular during war years or during the instability of the Ming and Qing dynasties and were most likely used as a form of divine protection against misfortunes. Before the reign of Ming Emperor Yongle, the emblems were not arranged in any particular order. From the reign of Ming Emperor Wanli onwards, the emblems are arranged in the order as :
1. The wheel of law, sometimes represented by a large bell is a symbol of Buddha's
teaching, which leads the disciples to nirvana.
2. A conch shell, an emblem of Buddha's voice preaching the laws of his doctrine and
it is believed that Buddha used it to call the faithful to prayers.
3. An umbrella, a symbol of nobility said to shed off the heat of desire.
4. A canopy or a flag, said to be a symbol of triumph over other religions of the
world.
5. The lotus, represents purity and the promise of nirvana.
6. A lidded jar, is believed to be a 'treasury of all desires' and to contain the
elixir of heaven.
7. A pair of fish, representing marital bliss and fidelity, and also an emblem of
perseverance. It also signifies a balance of opposites in nature.
8. An endless or mystic knot, believed to have been derived from the swastika, a
symbol of eternity and of the eight precepts in Buddhist teaching meant to guide
one to happiness.

However, after the reign of Qing Emperor Qian Long, this arrangement was not always strictly followed.

Pictures below are the colourful Straits Chinese porcelains (Nyonya wares) from my collection.


Small Kamcheng.



Small Kamcheng.



Small Kamcheng.



Small Kamcheng.



The lid of the small Kamcheng.



To compare the actual size of the small Kamcheng with a regular lighter.



Above are the pictures of a covered jar (Kamcheng), with small tub-like body set with two pairs of opposing perforated blue loops for the ring handles (missing), wide mouth and low collar and domed cover with flat rim and shallow flange topped by moulded peach-like finial with leaves. The body and cover featuring on each side a qua trefoil medallion in varying shades of pink enclosing a single peony blossom on a green ground decorated with light and dark green leaves. The jar shoulder and cover rim with four of the Eight Buddhist Emblems and trailing ribbons on a pink ground. Height : 8cm.

There are also a few types of Kamcheng collection in my previous blog. They are the "Blue And White Kamcheng".


Oval-shaped spoon 1. Length : 12.5cm.
-Front-



Oval-shaped spoon 1.
-Back-



Oval-shaped spoon 2. Length : 12.5cm.
-Front-



Oval-shaped spoon 2.
-Back-



Oval-shaped spoon 3. Length : 12.5cm.
-Front-



Oval-shaped spoon 3.
-Back-



Oval-shaped spoon 4. Length : 12.5cm.
-Front-



Oval-shaped spoon 4.
-Back-



Oval-shaped spoon 5. Length : 12.5cm.
-Front-



Oval-shaped spoon 5.
-Back-



Above are five oval-shaped spoons, with flat base and gilt-edged rim. The inside well almost completely decorated with a dominant pink and white peony on a white ground. The handle dominated by a large flying phoenix and its tail feathers extending nearly to the tip of the handle.


Oval-shaped spoon.
-Front-



Oval-shaped spoon.
-Back-



Above is another oval-shaped spoon, with flat base and gilt-edged rim. The inside well decorated with a single pink and white peony on a white ground amongst moss-covered rockery. The handle featuring a flying phoenix, the 'eye' on its tail feathers extending to the tip. The bottom side of the scoop painted with three iron red bats. Length : 10.5cm.


Oval-shaped spoon.
-Front-



Oval-shaped spoon.
-Back-



Again, above is another type of oval-shaped spoon, with flat base and gilt-edged rim. The inside well decorated with a phoenix surrounded by a floral scroll bordering the edge and up to the handle. Length : 12.5cm.


Dinner plate.
-Front-



Dinner plate.
-Back-



Dinner plate, with sloping side, gilt-edged chrysanthemum-shaped rim, shallow centre and short foot ring. It is decorated on a white ground with shades of pink, green and brown, white and black. The centre featuring a solitary phoenix perched on moss-covered rockery among peony sprays. The inner rim decorated with a border featuring the Eight Buddhist Emblems alternating with trailing ribbons and lotus blossoms on a deep rose pink ground. The white-glazed outer wall painted with three floral scrolls. Diameter : 15cm.


Serving plate.
-Front-



Serving plate.
-Back-



Serving plate, with sloping side, gilt-edged chrysanthemum-shaped rim, shallow centre and short foot ring. It is decorated on a white ground with shades of pink, green and brown, white and black. The centre featuring a solitary phoenix perched on moss-covered rockery among peony sprays. The inner rim decorated with a border featuring the first four only of the Eight Buddhist Emblems (wheel of law, conch shell, umbrella and canopy/flag) because of the size of the plate, on a deep rose pink ground. The white-glazed outer wall painted with two floral scrolls. Diameter : 11cm.


Serving bowl.



Serving bowl.



Serving bowl.



Serving bowl.



Serving bowl, with shallow rounded side, everted gilt-edged chrysanthemum-shaped rim and straight foot ring painted with rose pink enamel. The exterior decorated on a white ground with a flying phoenix on one side and a luxuriant peony spray on the other. The inside well featuring a pink and white peony bloom and leaves. The inner and outer rim filled with the Eight Buddhist Emblems with trailing ribbons alternating with lotus blooms on a ground ranging deep rose pink. Diameter : 14cm, Height : 6cm.


Dessert bowl 1.
Diameter : 9cm, Height : 5cm.



Dessert bowl 1.



Dessert bowl 1.



Dessert bowl 1.



Dessert bowl 2.
Diameter : 10.5cm, Height : 5.5cm.



Dessert bowl 2.



Dessert bowl 2.



Dessert bowl 2.



Dessert bowl 3.
Diameter : 9.5cm, Height : 5.5cm.



Dessert bowl 3.



Dessert bowl 3.



Dessert bowl 3.



The three dessert bowls above are in ogee-shaped, with high rounded sides, everted gilt-edged chrysanthemum-shaped rims and high straight rose pink foot rings. The exteriors decorated on a white ground with a flying phoenix on one side and a luxuriant peony spray on the other. The inside wells featuring a pink and white peony bloom and leaves. The inner rims are decorated with the first four of the Eight Buddhist Emblems, and the remaining four on the outer rims. Both are with the trailing ribbons alternating with lotus blooms on a rose pink ground.


Teacup 1.
Diameter : 7.5cm, Height : 4.5cm.



Teacup 1.



Teacup 1.



Teacup 2.
Diameter : 7cm, Height : 4cm.



Teacup 2.



Teacup 2.



Teacup 3.
Diameter : 7.5cm, Height : 4.5cm.



Teacup 3.



Teacup 3.



Above are three conical teacups, with everted gilt-edged chrysanthemum-shaped rims and high straight rose pink foot rings. The exteriors are decorated on a white ground with sprays of pink peony blooms and buds among dark and light green leaves on one side and a solitary butterfly on the other. The inside wells featuring a pink peony bloom with leaves. The inner and outer rims each filled with four of the Eight Buddhist Emblems with trailing ribbons (except teacup 1 with only the first four of the Eight Buddhist Emblems with two each on the inner and the outer rims) and only the teacup 3 is alternating with lotus blooms on a rose pink ground.

Also, as noticed, teacup 3 is actually broken and glued to its original shape.

Do check on "Colourful Straits Chinese Porcelains (2)" and "Colourful Straits Chinese Porcelains (3)".

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