Moon-shaped flask with birds

Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province, China
Qing dynasty, Yongzheng mark/period, AD 1723-35

This moon flask has a flattened round body, tubular neck and cloud scroll handles. Its design is centuries old and refers to the porcelain bian hu first made at Jingdezhen for the Yongle emperor (AD 1403—24), but its decoration in terms of colours and technical skill is an innovation made during the Yongzheng period.

On one side, two bai tou weng (literally white-headed old man) birds are shown on the branches of a white and pink flowering branch, and on the other side a pair of white birds are shown perched in a different type of blossoming tree with a pair of butterflies fluttering above blue and purple asters. The detail used in the painting is remarkable, reflecting the fact that this piece was commissioned by the court and manufactured at the imperial kilns at Jingdezhen. Each group of naturalistic leaves is composed of up to four different shades of green and the shading on the blossoms is extraordinarily well defined.

The innovations come in the form of new colours used, including a blue enamel for the aster, which replaced underglaze blue, a white enamel for the birds’ wings, and puce for the birds’ legs and beaks. The birds are a rebus (a visual pun in which pictures represent words or parts of words) for bai tou fu gui (white haired (in old age) (may you enjoy) riches and honour).

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Height: 293 mm

Museum number

PDF 824

On loan from Sir Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art


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