The luxuriance of the design and brilliance of the vivid enamels on this rare pair of square-form flasks, encapsulate the innovation of Tang Ying (1682-1756) in his role as Superintendent of the Imperial kilns at Jingdezhen.

The rich design of the flowers of the four seasons is elegantly rendered in famille-rose enamels on the larger sides of each flask, the distinctive square form of which is derived from tea caddies. In style, the rendering of the scene closely follows the flower paintings of one of China’s most eminent artists, Yun Shouping (1633-1690). Yun, whose sobriquet was Nantian, one of the ‘Six Masters’ of the early Qing period, is generally associated with paintings of flowers in the meigu or ‘boneless’ style that emphasises washes of colour rather than lines. His novel and unique manner of painting allowed him to bring out the distinct and innate beauty of the flowers while making them appear vibrant. He reintroduced the use of strong, bold colours, such as reds, purples and bright greens, which helped revive this genre in China. Yun’s paintings were greatly admired by the Yongzheng and Qianlong Emperors, and with the development of famille-rose enamels in the 1720s, porcelain designs inspired by Yun’s paintings were created, as seen on the current flasks.

Many of the flower paintings on Qing imperial porcelain appear to be influenced by another court artist Zou Yigui (1686-1772). See a related album painted by Zou in 1734, from the Qing court collection and now preserved in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, depicting twelve types of flowers, including peach blossoms and poppies, each accompanied by a poem, included in Harmony and Integrity: The Yongzheng Emperor and His Times, Taipei, 2009, cat. no. II-108 (fig. 1).

Tang Ying is a central figure in the development of Chinese porcelain. No single person probably had a greater impact on the development of Chinese porcelain and has been more celebrated in this context than Tang Ying. Having entered the services of the Qing Court at a very young age and belonging to one of the Banners under direct imperial control, he personally served all three of the major emperors of the Qing dynasty, Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong. He befriended the Yongzheng Emperor, his senior by only a few years, while the latter was still Prince, and upon his ascension to the throne, Tang became Vice-Director of the Imperial Household Department. Not long after, he was sent to Jingdezhen and soon oversaw the production of the Imperial kilns there; and although he later became Supervisor of Customs in nearby Jiujiang, he appears to have retained control over the production of Imperial porcelains until he retired, in the year he died.

fig. 1
Zou Yigui (1686-1772), Album of Flowers, Leaf 8: Poppies, Qing dynasty, 12th year of the Yongzheng period (1734), ink and colours on silk, Qing court collection
National Palace Museum, Taipei
圖一
雍正甲寅(1734年) 鄒一桂(1686-1772年)《花卉畫冊》第八開:虞美人草 絹本設色 清宮舊藏
台北國立故宮博物院

Tang Ying was accomplished as a painter, poet and writer, calligrapher, seal carver, and designer, managed to learn the techniques of the porcelain making process, and was a fine connoisseur of antiques of all periods, which the Imperial collection in Beijing had given him ample opportunities to study. This combination of studying and practicing art clearly gave him an acute understanding of aesthetic styles and material qualities, degrees of excellence and pitfalls to avoid. It put him in a unique position to propel the standards of the porcelain-making industry beyond anything previously seen.

Both flasks are inscribed with elegant flowing calligraphy in caoshu (running script), as seen on a sepia-enamelled brushpot designed by Tang Ying, enamelled with dragons and clouds, formerly in the collection of J.M. Hu and now in the Art Museum, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, illustrated in Peter Lam, Elegant Vessels for the Lofty Pavilion, Hong Kong, 1993, cat. no. 14. Both of the present caddies bear the seals tao and shu (‘pottery making’) seals, one also bears the seal shan and mo seals, the other you chuang (‘picturesque window’).

The sides are enamelled with an exuberant mille-fleurs design of chrysanthemums, lotuses, peonies, flowers buds and various other plants. Although the Western terminology of mille-fleurs is widely used, the Chinese name for this type of dense design jiacai (mixed or mingled colours) appropriately describes the multitude of famille-rose shades used. The jiacai technique was perfected by the Qianlong reign as seen on a vase from the Grandidier collection in the Musée Guimet, Paris, illustrated in Michel Beurdeley and Guy Raindre, Qing Porcelain. Famille Verte and Famille Rose, London, 1987, pl. 165.

Rectangular tea caddies were commonly used in the palace by the Qianlong period, as suggested by a few contemporaneous court paintings, such as Court Version of ‘Spring Dawn in the Han Palace’, completed by Sun Hu, Zhou Kun and Ding Guanpeng in the 6th year of the Qianlong period (1741), included in the exhibition Empty Vessels, Replenished Minds: The Culture, Practice, and Art of Tea, Taipei, 2002, cat. no. 123 (fig. 2). A closely related tea caddy of this form, together with a circular one, can also be seen in the painting Hongli’s entertainments on a snowy day from the Qing court collection, now preserved in the Palace Museum, Beijing.

Another rare porcelain vase of tea-caddy form, but covered in a marble-imitation glaze in the collection of the National Museums of Scotland, no. A.1929.81, attributed to Tang Ying and inscribed with a related seal Taojun is illustrated online. It is of the same distinct form as the current pair, and shares the same features of unglazed base and necks, suggesting that none of these originally had porcelain covers.

fig. 2
Sun Hu, Zhou Kun and Ding Guanpeng, Court Version of 'Spring Dawn in the Han Palace', Qing Dynasty, 6th year of the Qianlong period (1741), details, colours on silk
National Palace Museum, Taipei
圖二
乾隆六年(1741年)  孫祜、周鯤、丁觀鵬《院本漢宮春曉圖卷》局部 絹本設色 清宮舊藏
台北國立故宮博物院

茶,乃山中靈秀之物,千百年以來,演進成為中國傳統文化不可或缺的一部分,品茗藝術是中國茶文化的核心,為了「探虛玄而參造化,清心神而出塵表」,強調營造飲茶的美學意境,進而揭示茗茶藝術中的深刻哲理。

品茗必須擇器,除了講究壺或杯的古樸雅致,尚重視其他各款茶器彼此的搭配,其中貯存茶葉的容器頗為關鍵,是茶葉品質不變的重要保障。宋明以降,茶葉容器多素雅,入清之後則材質多變,式樣豐富,裝飾亦趨於華麗清貴。

此對乾隆洋彩四季花卉詩文四方茶葉罐正是其中卓越的佳例,其型端莊硬朗,氣息華貴,器身前後開光留白繪出四季花卉,並配以詩文,襯以瑩白如玉的釉色,格調清新文雅,四幅畫面分別為:

春季:碧桃花
圖中一樹桃花,橫欹盤出,虯幹老辣蒼勁,枝頭吐萼含英,佈局疏朗,氣息清新。繪畫精細,彩料妍麗,花萼以黃料敷染,朵朵粉嫩宜人,極為清雅,春風輕拂之中,尤見豐韻。右上角處綴以墨彩行書:「好是九重春色醉,莫隨三汲浪花肥。」後鈐聯珠印「陶」、「鑄」。

碧桃花,春季開花,色粉紅至深紅,盛開時,花紅似火,觸目皆是,春意盎然。九重,多層也,「九」,數之極也,古代常以「九」喻眾多,「九重春色」表達了人們對春天的讚美之情,寓無限美好的春光長留人間。「三汲浪花」,通於「桃浪三級」,相傳每當陽春三月,桃花盛開的季節正是春水盛漲之際,黃河龍門口湍急的三彎處,桃花隨流水,浪濤陣陣,蔚然成景,富具詩意,俗稱桃花汛。

夏季:虞美人
畫中虞美人花開悠然,一粉一紅,搖曳生姿,嬌柔妍美,惹人憐愛,設色蒼雅絢麗,曲盡其妙,得宋人意蘊,仙氣飄逸。右上角處配以墨彩行書:「最愛清香可蠲忿,時時風送入窗紗。」後鈐聯珠印「陶」、「鑄」。

虞美人花是在中國廣泛可見的觀賞花,盛開於夏季,花色有紅、白、紫、藍等顏色,濃妍華美,甚為繽紛秀麗。虞美人之名,源自楚漢時期虞姬的淒美傳說。虞姬是項羽的愛妾,唐張守節《史記正義》引錄漢初陸賈所撰的《楚漢春秋》,記述虞姬為楚霸王起舞,含淚唱:「漢兵已略地,四方楚歌聲。大王義氣盡,賤妾何聊生。」歌罷拔劍自刎,死後葬於垓下,據說虞姬碧血滲入江土化作虞美人花,從此盛開人間。後世文人墨客有咸於虞姬的英烈,多作有以虞美人為題的詩詞歌賦,影響深遠。

虞美人花入飾瓷器,盛始於雍正一朝,風行一時,其中唐英對其百般鍾愛是重要緣故。唐英癡愛環翠亭,遂喜以妍花相妝,於環翠亭畔遍植虞美人花,既得清賞之悅,又暗寓對其己故愛妾張氏可姬的思念之情。唐英戲曲專輯《古柏堂傳奇十七種──燈月閑情》之《虞兮夢》第三出《賞花》中,唐英把自己寫進角色,扮成仰慕霸王、虞姬的督陶官陶成居士,用對白表達作者對虞姬的欽佩,劇中的陶成居士在珠山環翠亭周圍遍植野花,「內中有一種虞美人花,最多可愛,他色豔香輕,偏反嫋娜」,誠如唐英賦詩《白虞美人花二首》所言「垓下輕生歌舞消,還來山署逞嬌嬈。」「夢拋錦帳黃金釧,魂反珠山白練裳。」,讓珠山陶署處處離不開虞美人花的妍美倩影。

秋季:秋葵
所繪秋葵一枝與薔薇相伴而出,粉彩暈染,層次豐富,過渡柔和,予花卉之神韻質感。彩繪圖案清新秀麗,筆意細膩流暢,佈局舒展靈空,處處流露出對秋葵的無限憐惜之情。左側提以墨彩行書:「清似臘梅梅太早,色如金菊菊猶遲。」後鈐紅彩篆章「幽窗」。

秋葵,花開出秋之時,其色鵝黃,薄如霓裳,妍麗無匹,然芬芳易逝,有朝開暮謝之說,故惹得歷代文人心生憐惜,百般癡愛,遍植屋廬之旁,以獲觀賞之美,宋人喻良能就有「棟樑酣夕照,雉堞蔓秋葵」之句。傳世稀罕的來畫當中不乏以秋葵為題,可見眾人對此鍾情之深。陳師道賦詩一首《秋葵》:「炎豔秋來故改妝,薄羅閑淡試鵝黃,傾城別有檀心在,依倚西風送殘陽。」更以淒美動人傳流千古。明成化皇帝以脫俗超軼的高雅藝術品味,將其移繪御瓷之上,為後世無比推崇的成窰逸品平添一份詩意的柔美。

冬季:山茶花
畫桌所示山茶橫斜生姿,花開殷紅紛白二色,濃淡兼具,綠意盎然,雖於寒冬歲暮時,依舊綻放傲立朔風之中。右下方飾以墨彩隸書:「群芳散盡羨山花,肯共松篁傲歲華」,後鈐聯珠印「翰」、「墨」。本花卉,在唐宋兩朝達到了登峰造極之境,深獲文人士大夫的讚譽,繪畫、詩詞皆多見涉及。

雍乾之世,清宮御瓷以「一器多花多詩」和「一器一花一詩」的造物組合付之成器,使得一物之內,詩畫相映同輝,書法印章各見真味,成就有清一代御瓷藝術創造的非凡篇章。本品秉承內廷恭造之式,書詩畫印皆俱,猶如一幅幅賞心悅目的工筆花卉畫,在體現皇家氣度的同時,蕩漾出一份婉約的文人意趣,令人稱道。

本品所繪四季花卉,風姿妍美,所依粉本必定出自名家之手,亦以內廷密切相關。清宮舊藏多件乾隆洋彩御瓷所繪的名花紋飾,皆摹自鄒一桂的畫作。弘曆對鄒氏頗為賞識,喜愛鄒氏的精緻畫風,在登基以前即曾多次賦詩讚詠鄒氏的佳作。因此,本品所繪碧桃、虞美人的粉本應是來自鄒一桂的同類畫作。

例如鄒一桂(1688-1772年)作於雍正十二年(1734年)的《花卉畫冊》十二開,一花一詩,花為鄒氏精繪,詩為寶親王弘曆自題七言絕句,分別繪有碧桃一頁,虞美人一頁(一),本品所繪風格與之極近,可謂得鄒氏神韻。鄒一桂《花卉畫冊》現存台北故宮(故畫003250),圖見《雍正:清世宗文物大展》,台北,2009年,編號II-108。

鄒一桂乃畫家、詩人,江蘇無錫人,清雍正五年(1727)進士,授翰林院編修,後官至內閣學士兼禮部侍郎。鄒氏是惲壽平之婿,得其真傳,尤擅工筆花卉,清潤秀逸,工致而雅麗,窮神而達化。所畫《百花圖卷》,各書一詩,進呈後,弘曆也題了絕句百首,因得一時之榮。

本品雖無常見的六字官窰篆款,但是其表現的氣度予人絕非官器莫屬之戚,其中最為顯著的一點,就是口沿左右兩側裝飾的色地洋彩花卉錦地紋,異常尊貴,並非普通官窰所能具備。

其中春碧桃圖所屬的茶葉罐裝飾黃地洋彩花卉錦地紋,花團錦簇,爭芳鬥豔,繪畫精緻華貴,與清宮舊藏乾隆早期瓷胎洋彩黃地洋花方瓶相同,彼此工藝特點相近,應同出自御窰工匠之手;見《華麗彩瓷:乾隆洋彩特展》,台北,2008年,編號34。

另外一件繪就虞美人圖,其粉地軋道洋彩花卉錦地紋,工藝繁縟,可與北京故宮清宮舊藏乾隆洋彩開光山水圖鏤空蓋罐的主體色地裝飾相對應,尤其一絲不苟的軋道工藝,華貴妍美,著錄於《故宮博物院藏文物珍品全集.琺瑯彩.粉彩》,香港,1999年,圖版114。

對罐彩瓷工藝,體現乾隆洋彩高致水準,或乃唐英督陶下御窰廠所造。在唐英主理御窰年間,佳瓷輩出,不乏題詩上品,例如香港中文大學文物館藏唐英墨彩雲龍詩文筆筒,草書流麗,見林業強,《臺閣佳器:暫得樓惠贈堂名款瓷器》,香港中文大學文物館,香港,1993年,編號14。

本品其中三處行書體勢開張瀟灑於外,筆力勁健凝練於內,字字皆可以玩味,另有讚詠山茶花的詩句則是隸書,運筆沉著厚重,結字端莊雍容,用筆方圓兼備,章法規矩合度。另外,篆章雖小,卻最見人文意蘊,不可或缺,如何鈐署,絕非隨意而為,應經精心思量。無論「陶鑄」、「翰墨」還是「幽窗」諸章,皆為畫面的佈局起到畫龍點睛之作用。如此詩文內容與畫面互為詮釋,詩文的書法、三方閒章的意境又可與四季花卉圖相互輝映,融詩、書、畫、章四者於一體,呈現完整意義的文人畫,以致本品文氣蕩漾,婉約爾雅。

四方茶葉罐盛於乾隆時期,多為鍚質為之,瓷製者亦始於乾隆初期,並成為一時風尚。清宮使用四方茶葉罐,最早見於台北故宮清宮舊藏繪成於乾隆六年(1741年)孫祜、周鯤、丁觀鵬《院本漢宮春曉圖卷》,當中有「備茶」一幕,煮水宮女身後的石案上陳設著茶壺與青花茶杯,素色四方茶葉罐,與本品形制一致(二),著錄在《也可以清心:茶器.茶事.茶畫》,台北,2002年,編號123。《院本漢宮春曉圖卷》雖以摹古為本,卻清宮內苑作背景,展現宮廷生活樂趣,故其器用一項亦應反映當時宮中實況。清宮舊藏《弘曆雪景行樂圖》絹本立軸,記錄中年的弘曆雪中品茶的情景,「備茶」當中亦見素色四方茶葉罐與圓形茶葉罐供御用,著錄在《故宮博物院藏文物珍品全集.清代宮廷繪畫》,香港,1996年,圖版73。

蘇格蘭國立博物館藏長方茶葉罐,與此器形極近,以墨褐二彩畫繪雲煙,並添墨書,一面鈐「陶」、「鈞」二印,或乃唐英所造,編號A.1929.81。蘇格蘭罐器底及頸部澀胎,與對罐相近,推測此類茶葉罐並不配合瓷蓋使用。

本品形制上承內府茶器之式樣,若以搭配使用而言,清宮舊藏乾隆洋彩黃地開光山水人物詩文圖茶壺,釉料敷設、裝飾風格皆一一契合,特別壺流與執柄所在之處分別開光留白精繪折枝薔薇與梅花,與本品所繪四季花卉如出同人之手,見《故宮博物院藏文物珍品全集.琺瑯彩.粉彩》,前述出處,圖版110。

乾隆皇帝一生與茶結下不解之線。乾隆八年(1743年)規定每年正月從初二至初十之間擇吉日在重華宮舉行茶宴,天子與詞臣品茶吟詩。據《飲茶詩話》載,弘曆嗜茶如命,在位六十載,甚至於一代帝王退位之時,亦安排在正月重華宮品茶之時,弘曆嗜茶、迷茶、戀茶,對這山川精氣所孕育的靈芽傾注了無限深情。淡淡清茗,會引得他逸興無教,詩情橫溢。唐英或是借物寄情,助弘曆之雅興,點綴茶席問,貯江南佳茗,得四時芬芳,令其體會茶道之妙。