Chinese Works of Art

A Womanly Bond: Empress Dowager Cixi's Porcelains in the Levy Collection

By Ying-Chen Peng


The Levy Collection is one of the most comprehensive private collections encompassing important specimens of late Qing imperial porcelains. This collection is even more intriguing because it is a woman collector’s endeavor of assembling works commissioned by another woman, a womanly bond between the late Barbara Levy (1938-2021) and Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908). Cixi was the most powerful woman and controversial political figure in recent Chinese history. Her regency stretched over four decades, and she was the foremost patroness of late Qing court art, including porcelains. These porcelains’ dazzling colors, delicate decorations, and ambitious scales are the materialization of this formidable woman’s persona. Cixi’s sensibility in fashion, beauty, and refinement did not go unnoticed. It was appreciated by Levy a century after Cixi’s passing. This article will provide an overview of late Qing imperial porcelain and the highlights of the Levy Collection.

Late Qing Imperial Porcelains

When it comes to the imperial porcelains of the Qing dynasty, scholars and collectors celebrate eighteenth-century accomplishments, such as the development of overglazed enamel wares, commonly known as falangcai or yangcai (depending on whether produced in the court workshops or the imperial kiln in Jingdezhen), the cultivation of antiquarianism, and the invention of unique new specimens such as the famous rotating vase that first appeared during the Qianlong period (1736-1795). Contrary to such fervent interest, the nineteenth century is a curious void because of a general decline in quality and quantity, which is often connected with the waning production of the imperial kiln after the Qianlong period and the institution’s destruction during the decade-long Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864). While this impression of inferiority is undeniable, recent scholarship has unveiled several groups of highly sophisticated late Qing imperial wares comparable to their exquisite eighteenth-century predecessors, the majority of which were commissioned by the Daoguang Emperor (r. 1820-1850) and Empress Dowager Cixi.

Imperial portrait of the Empress Dowager Cixi © The Palace Museum, Beijing

Qing imperial porcelains are roughly divided into regular production and special order. The former is vast in quantity and standard in design since they were for the use of the entire imperial household. As a result, the same designs based on the pattern books and descriptions in the Qing documents, such as The Illustrations of Imperial Ritual Paraphernalia (Huangchao liqi tushi) and History of the Qing Palace (Guochao gongshi), would be repeatedly produced. If the regular production’s purpose was to demonstrate the Qing Empire’s prosperity and the stability of the state, the other type of commission allowed room for the patron to assert their specific agenda. Special commissions were often placed for events such as imperial birthdays and weddings. Some were made just for the patron’s pleasure or used in specific spaces, most notably porcelains inscribed with the title of palaces in the Forbidden City and other imperial precincts. Consequently, these one-time, personal commissions bear unique characteristics in style or decoration related to the patron’s preference.

Porcelains for imperial consorts were provided according to their ranks. Guochao Gongshi clearly records what utensils they would receive. In terms of porcelains, the empress would be supplied with two hundred and twenty yellow-glazed plates, eighty plates of various colors, forty yellow dishes, fifty dishes of various colors, one hundred yellow bowls, three hundred yellow teacups, seventy teacups of various colors, and four spittoons. The number becomes much smaller for the secondranked imperial noble consort. She could use white plates with yellow glaze on the exterior, which included four plates, four dishes, four bowls, and two teacups. Other porcelains of various colors included fifteen plates, fifty bowls, and twenty teacups.

Although the production of imperial porcelains was significantly scaled back by the Daoguang Emperor, whose reign unveiled the late Qing period, the rigid principles and protocols for the imperial kiln were largely intact. Daoguang was enthusiastic about commissioning porcelains for his palaces in small numbers. Zhao Congyue’s study of the imperial porcelains in the collection of the Palace Museum identifies roughly seven hundred porcelains inscribed with more than seventy different names of palaces or halls made during the Daoguang period. They are mainly tableware, and the standing vessels are usually smaller. Their stylistic features also highlight the characteristics of late Qing imperial ware. Overglazed enamel wares outnumber blue-and-white and monochrome porcelains, auspicious animals, flora, fruits, and Daoist immortals are popular decorative motifs. Among them, the wares of the highest quality belonged to two palaces in the Yuanmingyuan (Gardens of Perfect Brightness): the Shendetang and the Zhanjingzhai palaces.

The Shendetang palace was Daoguang’s residence; thus, commissioning porcelains for this palace was in line with Qing convention. The Zhanjingzhai porcelains are unique because the Zhanjingzhai palace was constructed for Daoguang’s beloved fourth and last empress, Xiaoquancheng (1808-1840). She gave birth to their son, the future Xianfeng emperor (r. 1850-1861), three months after the palace was completed in 1831. This group of porcelain that contains bright yellow and lemon-color glazes and decorated with incised dragons was no other than Daoguang’s gift to Xiaoquancheng. Interestingly, the commission of some of the Zhanjingzhai porcelains was paired with the Shendetang porcelains. Daoguang ordered several kinds of porcelains in 1833 and specifically demanded that these porcelains be inscribed Shendetang and Zhanjingzhai. Most noteworthy is that when the commission was placed, the occupant of Zhanjingzhai was still the second-rank imperial noble consort Quan, whose utensils should not have included yellow-glazed porcelains. The yellow-glazed bowl with an incised dragon pattern on the Zhanjingzhai porcelains violates the principles documented in Guochao gongshi, which testifies to Daoguang’s special affection for this woman. Such unusual favor Daoguang showered on Xiaoquan had an unexpected afterlife that enabled a revolutionary expression of female agency.

Destruction and Revival of the Late Qing Imperial Kiln

The Daoguang Emperor would not have foreseen the impact of his special favor for Empress Xiaoquan, which paved the way for the next powerful supporter of Qing court art. It was Empress Dowager Cixi, the consort of their son Xianfeng, who bore his only male heir, that took the baton from Daoguang and became the most important patroness of late Qing court art. Cixi was promoted to junior empress dowager along with Xianfeng’s empress Ci’an in 1865. The two women began their joint regency, but Cixi was the mastermind behind all political acts. Her regency would last until she died in 1908, making her the most powerful woman parallel to the British Empire’s Queen Victoria (r. 1837-1901). Cixi’s entrance into the inner court in 1852 was concurrent with the downfall of the Qing Empire. The empire was still recovering from the humiliating defeat of the First Opium War a decade prior when the largest civil uprising, the Taiping Rebellion, broke out in southern China in 1850 and rapidly evolved into a civil war that profoundly damaged China’s most prosperous South. The war lasted throughout the entire Xianfeng reign and into the Tongzhi period. The last branch was quelled in 1869.

Design of a yellow-ground famille-rose ‘butterfly and shuangxi’ bowl, ink and color on paper, late Qing dynasty © The Palace Museum, Beijing

The imperial kiln, located in Jingdezhen, Jiangxi Province, was destroyed by the Taiping rebels early during the civil war. Gone were not only facilities but also skillful potters; all regular productions were put on hold. When the Qing government regained control of southern China and demanded the local officials of Jiangxi to make porcelains for Xianfeng’s funeral in 1866, the magistrate could only assemble existing local potters to complete the imperial commission and delayed the shipment. The delay made Cixi aware of the urgency of restoring the imperial kiln. She appointed Li Hongzhang (1823-1901), who would later become the renowned Qing politician and diplomat, to complete the mission in 1868. However, the most important reason why Cixi rushed to restore the imperial kiln was to begin the wedding preparation for the young Tongzhi Emperor (r. 1861-1875), one of the most important events for the Qing imperial family. Cixi’s direct engagement with the imperial kiln restoration, together with the preceding example of Zhanjingzhai ware, resulted in the abundance of her special porcelain orders throughout her regency. There are eight types of wares whose inscriptions are associated with Cixi’s palaces and decennial birthday celebrations, and she was also in charge of the planning of the weddings of her son and nephew, the Tongzhi and Guangxu emperors, respectively.

The distinction between regular production and the special commission is critical for the connoisseurship of late Qing imperial porcelains. As mentioned above, although the former was large in quantity, their shape, size, and decorative motifs rarely changed, for example seen in a Guangxu mark and period yellow-glazed bowl from the Levy Collection. This design was regularly produced throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. While the shape and pattern might have minor changes, the most obvious clue for dating is the reign mark on the bottom. A yellow-glazed fu ritual vessel and cover stands for another type of regular production that did not allow for any casual change. Ritual objects of the Qing dynasty had to adhere to rigorous forms, all documented in the Huangchao liqi tushi. The yellow-glazed vessels were for the rites held at the Temple of Earth (ditan), and the shape, decoration, and size of all the vessels are described and illustrated, including the fu vessel in question. These sacred wares must be loyal to the illustration to ensure the authenticity of the rite.

By contrast, special commissions were all about change and variation since they were for the patron’s personal use. However, we can still observe general trends despite differences in the inscription, shape, and production technique. The first and foremost characteristic of late Qing imperial porcelain is the prevalence of bold colors. While it was built on the foundation of the Qianlong period, new colors such as bright blue and dark bluish purple emerged, as seen on a pair of bold blue-ground narcissus trays or a purple-ground ‘peony’ bowl, a development that is possibly related to the introduction of new foreign enamel recipes. New specimens, such as black paint against yellow background, also appeared during this time. Another area of novelty lies in new motifs such as hydrangea, orchid, and butterfly, which had been background motifs prior and now occupy the most prominent place on the porcelain surface. The colorful butterflies on a three-tiered box and a doublelozenge narcissus tray, as well as the large orchid blossoms on a yellowground bowl and cover are examples of this stylistic change.

Cixi's Porcelains in the Levy Collection

The Levy Collection is one of the rare collections encompassing most kinds of porcelains Cixi commissioned. In other words, this pioneering personal collection demonstrates an unusual womanly bond between a woman collector and a female ruler. The Levy Collection contains four groups of Cixi’s porcelains. They are introduced below in the order of the commission period. The first group of porcelains belongs to the vast number of wedding wares for the Tongzhi Emperor. The twentynine designs can be further divided into porcelains for the ceremony and banquet, bequeathed porcelains for the future empress, and daily utensils for the empress and the first consort. The preparation for the wedding, including porcelains, began in 1867, but the quality of the first shipment was well below Cixi’s standard. The disappointed empress dowager demanded the imperial kiln to make the porcelains again and even ordered the local magistrate to pay for the cost as his punishment. It was not until 1872 did the imperial kiln submit satisfactory final works.

The large ‘magpie and prunus’ dish (lot 546) exemplifies the potters’ efforts to attain the past glory of the imperial kiln. Like other specimens of the Tongzhi wedding ware, this design was made into different shapes and large numbers. The making of each of them, however, required many steps that allowed no room for mistake. The decorative patterns were incised first; then the magpie and prunus patterns were painted and baked. The last step was to apply the yellow ground. The skillful potter carefully avoided the edges of these intricate patterns and made sure that the glaze did not overflow during baking. This complicated process was called tianhuang, or filling yellow, and it was described in detail in the local official’s report to Cixi. The report stated that while this technique had been common in earlier times, it was largely lost after the destruction of the imperial kiln.

The large coral-ground famille-rose service (lot 543) includes porcelains all painted with the same design. Against the coral-color ground are auspicious double xi (happiness) characters. Some are inscribed “yanxi tonghe,” a phrase that combines the palace names for Tongzhi’s empress and consort in the Forbidden City. It can also be interpreted as a prayer for the couple’s harmonious marriage. The exterior of the larger bowls and the spittoons also each have a roundel within which a pair of dragon and phoenix hover around another xi character. Their inscriptions read “changcun tongqing,” or, “jointly celebrating the eternal spring.” But since “changcun” can also refer to the two empress dowagers’ residence in the Changchungong Palace in the Forbidden City, scholars tie this group of wares to a small number of porcelains made for a wedding banquet held there. Happiness is indeed the keyword to the wedding. It appears in many designs of the Tongzhi wedding ware. A yellow-ground, iron-red and famille-rose dish (lot 564) decorated with flying bats and shou medallions is a typical example incorporating textual and pictorial motifs to maximize the auspiciousness: the pronunciation of bat in Chinese, fu, is the same as the character for good fortune.

The second group of Cixi’s porcelain is the most famous and highquality ware. They bear the four-character “yongqing changchun” (celebrating the eternal spring) inscription in overglazed red enamel on the bottom, as reflected in a purple-ground famille-rose ‘peony’ bowl (lot 561). The large-sized works are inscribed with “dayazhai” characters horizontally, coupled with an oval seal that reads “tiandi yijiachun,” such as on a pair of famille-rose ‘parrot and peach’ jardinières (lot 551). Both red enamel inscriptions refer to Cixi’s personal space in the inner court. The former originated from a tablet Xianfeng ordered and hung in 1855. It is how this group of porcelains is conventionally named. The latter is the name of the palace for Cixi in the Garden of Myriad Springs, an imperial precinct nearby the Garden of Perfect Brightness that Qing emperors dedicated to retired consorts of the deceased emperors. Its construction was a part of the Tongzhi Emperor’s Garden of Perfect Brightness reconstruction project in 1863, but it was canceled the next year amid bribery and corruption scandals. Cixi gave the design of her Tiandi yijiachun palace full attention because its construction coincided with her fortieth birthday. It was against this backdrop that she ordered the Dayazhai ware for her future residence.

Design of a ‘parrot and peach’ rectangular jardinière, ink and color on paper, late Qing dynasty © The Palace Museum, Beijing

The cheerful, bright colors and the auspicious decorative motifs of the Dayazhai ware radiate the joy of its patroness. After all, Tongzhi had begun personal rule and established his inner court at the time of this commission. Cixi’s focus thus turned to her post-retirement life, and the first and foremost preparation was to decorate her new palace. Her instructions were as meticulous as ever. Each design of the Dayazhai ware is based on a drawing. For example, the purple-ground ‘Dayazhai’ porcelains in the Levy Collection are faithful renditions of the original drawing. The boneless technique the painter used distinguishes the design of Dayazhai ware from other late Qing imperial porcelains, whose design drawings are missing the painterly quality. The yellow labels on the drawing list the shape and number of wares that should be made into this design, thus the examples from the Levy Collection.

There are thirty-three designs for the Dayazhai ware. The Levy Collection assembles at least thirteen of them. They are mostly decorated with flora motifs carrying auspicious symbolisms, and some are new decorations characteristic of the late Qing period. For example, the morning glory on a famille-rose oval narcissus tray (lot 573) is chosen for the rapid growth of the plant and, by extension, the family. A yellow-ground double-lobed narcissus bowl (lot 570) is decorated with elegant purple wisteria, a new motif that rose to prominence not only on porcelain but also in late Qing court fashion. Similarly, the hydrangea, a flower that used to be a minor motif on porcelain, became one of the most popular decorations on Cixi’s porcelains and attire. The ‘lotus and egret’ box (lot 558), on the other hand, represents a pleasant summer scenery and a pictorial pun—a pair of egrets resting in a blooming lotus pond. The Chinese pronunciations of egret and lotus, lu and lian respectively, form the phrase lulu lianke, which means one’s smooth promotion in state examination or career. A comparable example is in the Palace Museum’s collection. For a retired empress dowager, this decoration seems very unnecessary, but looking at it from a mother’s perspective might well indicate Cixi’s expectation for her son’s thriving rulership. Also noteworthy is the patroness’s attention to flower vessels. Almost all the designs of the Dayazhai ware contain one or two types of flower vases or planters, which is also a unique characteristic of late Qing imperial porcelains.

Ironically, the joyful Dayazhai ware commission was marred by a tragic ending. The Tongzhi Emperor died of smallpox soon after the Yuanmingyuan reconstruction project was terminated. Cixi was doubly struck by her son’s passing and the cancellation of her post-retirement palace. She erected Tongzhi’s cousin to be the succeeding Guangxu Emperor (r.1871-1908) and resumed regency in 1874 until the end of her life in 1908, three days after Guangxu died in 1908. The last two groups of Cixi’s porcelains in the Levy Collection were both commissioned during the Guangxu period. Although they are similar to the Dayazhai ware in technique, their context of commission and the design demarcate the patroness’s much-changed mentality from ordering for family’s sake to making porcelains solely for herself.

The third group, the Tihedian ware, was commissioned in 1885. The shipment was delivered to Beijing in the next year. This palace building is a part of Cixi’s residence, Chuxiugong Palace, in the Forbidden City, and it was renovated into a dining space in 1885 as a part of Cixi’s fiftieth birthday celebration. Unlike the Dayazhai ware, which amounted to nearly five thousand pieces, the Tihedian ware is much more sophisticated in type and smaller in number. They include various boxes and flower vessels totaling fewer than five hundred pieces, thus rarer than the Dayazhai ware. Similar to the Dayazhai ware, larger vessels such as fish tanks bear the horizontal red “tihedian zhi” inscription as is shown on a pair of large yellow-ground grisaille-painted ‘peony’ fishbowls (lot 559), but the characters are in seal script rather than the standard script for the Dayazhai ware. The decorations are also somewhat limited. There are only four colors: overglazed enamel on yellow ground, black enamel on yellow ground,blue and white, and incised patterns on a yellow ground. The prevalence of yellow, the color of monarchy, is a visual demonstration of Cixi’s unchallengeable status in the court.

The decoration in this group of porcelains also serves a special function of praying for longevity, unlike the diverse symbolisms involving wishes for the patroness and her family. In other words, the Tihedian ware is a projection of Cixi’s mentality at this time. After losing her spouse and only child, this female ruler turned focus to maintaining her own power and health. Notably, the potters continued to use the tianhuang technique that they successfully revived two decades prior. A pale yellow-ground and blue ‘bats and peaches’ planter (lot 554), comparable to one in the collection of Palace Museum, is an interesting example of the maturity of this technique during this time. At the first glance, the planter looks like the typical blue and white porcelain against yellow ground, a typical specimen popular in the Ming dynasty. However, by adopting the tianhuang technique, the potters ensured the layering of blue and the vivid coloration of blue and yellow enamels, which overcame the unpredictable coloration of cobalt and plant-based glazes.

Design of yellow-ground ‘bats and peaches’ foliate-rim jardinière, ink and color on paper, late Qing dynasty © The Palace Museum, Beijing

Even rarer and more symbolic of the ambition and achievement of the late Qing imperial kiln under Cixi’s leadership is the last group, the plates inscribed with “Chuxiugong zhi” in seal script. This unique commission was placed in 1889 for the Chuxiugong Palace, another palace in the Forbidden City’s inner court area where Cixi dwelled. The patroness demanded two hundred and fifty-six pieces, but their large sizes posed great challenges to the imperial kiln, forcing it to divide the commission into three shipments in two years. A large yellow-ground green- and aubergine-enameled ‘dragon’ charger (lot 557), as well as another blue-ground green-enameled example (lot 569) both measure 28 inches in diameter, and belong to the largest plates in the Chuxiugong ware. These plates all bear underglaze-blue “chuxiugong zhi” inscriptions in seal script on the bottom. The choice of this archaic script points to Cixi’s interest in the cultural paradigm. Indeed, the yellow-ground example is an enlarged reproduction of a popular design during the Kangxi period. The large famille-verte plate decorated with the flower and rock motif in the center (lot 607) is also copied from the porcelains of the Kangxi period.

Even more striking is the robust five-clawed dragons on the yellowground charger. While utensils for empress dowagers sometimes bear this motif, they were objects provided by the Department of Imperial Household. On the contrary, the Chuxiugong ware was exclusively made for Cixi. The empress dowager regent had no hesitation in approving its designs that included the dragon motif reserved for the emperor, and the large plates, one of the most difficult shapes to beautifully fire in the kiln, aimed at reclaiming the Qing regime’s eighteenth-century glory, a mission for the ruling monarch. These large plates were vessels for towers of apples that provided a natural aroma to Cixi’s space and also functioned as the visual pun for peace, ping in Chinese, which is homophonous with the character of apple. These large plates were installed in Cixi’s palace and for her photo shooting sessions.

In conclusion, the Levy Collection is a rare private collection of late Qing porcelains in breadth and depth. The large number of colorful Dayazhai porcelains suggests the late Barbara Levy’s awareness of these porcelains’ connection with Cixi. They were assembled not only for their aesthetic value but also for the rare womanly bond between the two women who lived a century apart. Their auction also demarcates a new tendency in the world of collecting, in which nineteenth-century imperial porcelains have an important role to play.

兩位非凡女性的藝術靈犀:LEVY 收藏慈禧太后御瓷 彭盈真



Levy收藏廣博而精深,收羅多件晚清宮廷瓷器珍品,其中更加引人入勝之處,是它代表著收藏家Barbara Levy(1938-2021 年)和慈禧太后(1835-1908年)——一位女性收藏家與一位女性藝術贊助人之間超越時空的聯繫。慈禧是中國近代史上最有權勢的女性,也是最具爭議性的政治人物。她掌權四十多年,同時也是晚清宮廷最重要的藝術推動者。本收藏的瓷器色彩絢麗、紋飾精緻、編制恢宏,讓人想起她的顯赫權威。慈禧對時尚、審美和藝術的敏銳觸覺並沒有被世人遺忘。慈禧逝世一個世紀後,她的御瓷成爲了Barbara Levy殷切收藏的對象。本文概述晚清宮廷瓷器及Levy珍藏的亮點。


學者和收藏家對18世紀清代宮廷瓷器推崇備至,其中釉上彩瓷、復古器、以及創燒於乾隆年代之轉心瓶等新穎款式尤受注目。釉上彩瓷又有琺瑯彩或洋彩等名稱,視乎瓷器生產於宮廷作坊或景德鎮御窰。與此製瓷盛世相比之下,19世紀瓷器不免黯然失色,質量及數量都不及前朝,這與乾隆年後御窰產量下降、以及太平天國十數年動亂(1850-1864年)有關。無可否認,19 世紀清宮瓷器整體較之前遜色,但近期研究卻發現了數組異常精美的晚清宮廷器,可與18世紀御瓷媲美,其中大部分是由道光皇帝(1820-1850年在位)及慈禧太后旨令製作。

慈禧太后坐像 © 故宮博物院,北京




慎德堂是道光帝的寢宮,為這座宮殿特製瓷器符合清宮慣例。道光帝先後共有四位皇后,孝全成皇后(1808-1840年)是最後一位,深得道光寵愛,湛靜齋正是為她而建,湛靜齋瓷亦因而非常獨特。1831年宮殿建成三個月後,孝全成皇后誕下皇子,即未來的咸豐皇帝(1850-1861年在位)。這組鮮黃、檸檬色釉暗刻龍紋瓷器,正是道光帝贈予孝全成皇后的禮物。 有趣的是,部份湛靜齋瓷器與慎德堂瓷器可配成一對。1833年,道光旨令特製數款瓷器,特別要求瓷器必須署有慎德堂和湛靜齋款。最值得留意的是,道光下令製作此批瓷器之時湛靜齋主人尚未封后,僅為全貴妃,故其器物不應包括黃釉瓷器。湛靜齋瓷器上的黃釉龍紋盌有違《國朝宮史》所訂規格,可見道光對全貴妃寵愛之深。道光對孝全成皇后這種不同尋常的眷顧,在多年之後,竟再成就了一場女權的革命性宣示。


道光皇帝也沒有預料到他對孝全成皇后的寵愛對後來的影響,更為下一位清宮藝術支持者埋下伏筆。咸豐皇帝是由道光與孝全所生的唯一皇子,咸豐的貴妃後來成爲慈禧太后,是晚清宮廷藝術最重要的女性推動者,在道光朝之後繼續支持宮廷藝術。1865年,慈禧與咸豐太后慈安封為太后。兩后開始聯合攝政,但慈禧是所有政治活動的策劃者。她自此掌握大權,直至 1908年去世爲止,令她成為與大英帝國維多利亞女王(1837-1901年在位)並列、最有權勢的女性。1852年慈禧入宮時,清朝正值衰敗,當時朝廷仍未從十年前第一次鴉片戰爭的慘敗中恢復元氣,再加上1850 年太平天國之亂,時局動蕩不安,令本來繁榮的南方受到嚴重破壞。太平天國的動亂貫穿咸豐一朝,直到同治年間、1869年太平天國最後一個支部被剿滅方休。

清末 黃地粉彩百蝶雙喜紋盌圖樣 設色紙本 © 故宮博物院,北京

位於江西省景德鎮的御窰在動亂初期亦遭太平天國叛軍毀壞,御窰設施連同瓷匠消失無蹤,所有工作擱置。1866年,清政府收復中國南方,要求江西地方官員為咸豐葬禮燒製瓷器時,江西知府只能召集當地瓷匠拼凑成軍,甚至無法如期上奉瓷器。這一耽誤,讓慈禧太后意識到恢復御窰的緊迫性。1868年,她任命後來成為清朝著名政治家兼外交家的李鴻章(1823-1901年)主理此事。慈禧之所以急於修復御窰,最重要的原因是要為年輕的同治皇帝(18611875年在位)準備大婚慶典,這是清朝皇室最重要的大事之一。慈禧直接參與御窰修復,再加上之前的湛靜齋瓷器,都是她在攝政期間燒製的特別瓷器,數量龐大 。參考八款瓷器,署款與慈禧的宮殿和十年一次的隆重壽宴相關。此外,其子同治皇帝和侄兒光緒皇帝的婚禮,也是由慈禧親自安排。

如前所述,清代宮廷瓷器大致分為常規製燒和特別燒製兩類,分辨兩者,是鑑賞晚清宮廷瓷器的關鍵一環,前者數量雖多,但器型、尺寸、紋飾均變化甚少,可參考Levy收藏中一件清光緒黃地綠彩趕珠龍紋盌。 18和19世紀期間,此類瓷碗燒製甚多,器型和紋飾或有細微變化,底部年款是最清晰的斷代線索。而黃釉蓋簠是常規製燒、不容隨意更改的御瓷。清代禮器器型規格嚴謹,在《皇朝禮器圖式》有詳細記載,説明黃釉器用於在地壇舉行的儀式,指定器形、紋飾及尺寸並附圖,這一款黃釉蓋簠亦有記錄。這些禮器必須遵照書中插圖,以確保儀式正確無誤。


LEVY 收藏慈禧太后珍瓷





清末 粉彩壽桃鸚鵡花盆圖樣 設色紙本 © 故宮博物院,北京


大雅齋瓷器的紋飾有33種,Levy 收藏包括其中最少13種,多數是吉祥寓意的花卉紋飾,此外也有具備晚清特色的新穎設計。參考清光緒粉彩牽牛花紋水仙花盆(編號573),牽牛花生長迅速,意寓家族興旺、繁衍不息。清光緒黃地粉彩紫藤花鳥紋雙圓連體亞腰水仙花盆(編號570)飾紫藤花,在當時屬於新穎圖案,既可見於瓷器之上,也用於晚清宮廷衣飾。同樣,繡球花曾經是瓷器陪襯紋飾,卻是慈禧御瓷和服飾中最得太后喜愛的紋飾之一。清光緒粉彩路路連科圖蓋盒(編號558)則描繪「路路連科」的夏日景色,兼用圖案及文字表達吉祥寓意,「鷺」與「蓮」與路和連諧音,寄事業順境、科舉高中之願。故宮博物院亦收藏一件相近作例。同治親政,慈禧退居幕後,路路連科紋飾看似與其休閒的生活無甚關係,但從一個母親的角度而言,這也許是寄托了皇兒治國得以大展拳脚的期望。此外,同樣值得注意的是慈禧對花器的關注。大雅齋瓷器的紋飾幾乎全都包括一兩款花瓶或花盆,這個特點也是晚清宮廷瓷器獨有。



這組瓷器紋飾獨以祝願長壽爲主,有別於對較早前慈禧對自身及家人祈願的多種象徵意義。也就是說,體和殿器是慈禧此時心態的投射。在失去配偶和獨生子之後,這位女性統治者將注意力轉向維護自身權力和健康。值得注意的是,此時瓷匠們繼續使用他們在二十年前成功復興的填黃技術。清同治黃地青花福壽雙全紋花盆(編號554)與故宮博物院收藏的花盆相近,是這一時期填 黃技術成熟的佳例。乍看之下,花盆是典型的黃地青花瓷器,流行於明代的典型。然而,瓷匠利用填黃技術來確保青花的層次感和鈷藍和黃彩的鮮艷,克服了鈷料和植物釉料顏色難以預測的問題。

清末 黃地水墨花蝠壽圓花盆圖樣 設色紙本 © 故宮博物院,北京

更難得、更能象徵慈禧領導下晚清御窰雄心的是最後一組、署「儲秀宮」篆書款的瓷器。這批瓷器別具特色,慈禧於1889年旨令燒製,儲秀宮是紫禁城內慈禧住過的另一座宮殿。慈禧旨令御窰製作256件瓷器,由於尺寸龐大,御窰無法一次完成,只能兩年內分三批呈交。清光緒黃地紫綠彩雲龍趕珠紋大盤(編號557)和清光緒藍地綠彩雲龍趕珠紋大盤(編號569)半徑均達28寸,是儲秀宮瓷器中最大的盤例。盤底署釉下青花「儲秀宮製」篆書款。選用篆書款,表明了慈禧對高古文化的興趣。黃地紫綠彩龍紋大盤流行於康熙一朝,本品按之燒製,唯尺寸較大。清光緒素三彩花卉暗龍紋大盤盤心飾花卉靈石紋飾 (編號607),亦屬仿康熙瓷器。


綜上所述,Levy 收藏雲集多件難得一見的晚清瓷器珍品,收藏廣度和深度同樣出衆,而收藏包括多件大雅齋瓷器,從中可推斷Barbara Levy熟知這些瓷器與慈禧的關聯。這個收藏的集成,不但反映藏家的美學視野,還出自一種女性之間的聯繫,匯聚了相隔一個世紀的兩位非凡女性的藝術靈犀。此外,這次拍賣也標誌著收藏界的新趨勢,展示出19世紀宮廷瓷器在收藏界中開始扮演更重要的角色,值得廣大藏家關注。

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