The pattern of overlapping roundels appears to have its origins in Japanese design, where circular heraldic family symbols (mon) are a popular motif for adorning textiles, lacquer, ceramics and other works of art. Although the adoption of this design by the Qing imperial kilns is very likely due to the Yongzheng Emperor’s interest in Japanese aesthetics, a similar design had already been used in Jingdezhen almost a century earlier in the late Ming dynasty. Chinese potters at Jingdezhen began to use Japanese designs in the mid-17th century, at a time when items were created in the Japanese taste for export to Japan. Many of the blue and white and polychrome porcelains made for the Japanese market (shonzui and aka-e) have these roundels incorporated into the design or used as a border; see Nishida Hiroko and Degawa Tetsuro, Chugoku no toji/Chinese Ceramics, vol. 10, Min Matsu Shin so no minyo/Export Porcelain in the Late Ming to Early Qing, Tokyo, 1998, pls 32, 64, 66, and p. 125, fig. 75, p. 127, fig. 81, and p. 131, fig. 89.
Of particular interest to the Yongzheng Emperor was the Japanese art of lacquer that incorporated gold and silver (makie). Many Japanese lacquer boxes with such designs were in the court collection, of which some are preserved in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, and included in the Museum’s exhibition Qing gong makie. Yuan cang Riben qiqi tezhan [Gold and silver lacquer work in the Qing Palace. Special exhibition of Japanese lacquer wares held by the Museum], 2002. The catalogue to the exhibition notes that "the appreciation and admiration that the Yung-Cheng emperor held for Japanese lacquerware was so great that he not only encouraged their production in the imperial factories but also promoted the implementation of lacquerware styles and designs on other mediums" (p. 20).
The present design, often called the ‘flower-ball’ pattern (piqiu hua) appears to stem from such Japanese lacquer designs. Many of the Japanese lacquer boxes in the National Palace Museum depict related roundels (e.g. ibid., cat. nos 20, 32, 61, 65, 68-71), which suggest that the Emperor encouraged court artists to develop them into completely Chinese designs on imperial porcelain. This motif was produced in both doucai and famille rose palettes, the latter version providing a particularly enchanting and fresh aesthetic as it accentuates the newly developed palette against the silky white porcelain.
A closely related bowl, in the Palace Museum, Beijing, is published in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Porcelains with Cloisonne Enamel Decoration and Famille Rose Decoration, Hong Kong, 1999, pl. 67; and a pair, from the collections of Sir Keith Murdoch and Andrew Drummond, was sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 1st May 1995, lot 669, now in the Wang Xing Lou collection, included in the exhibition Imperial Perfection. The Palace Porcelain of Three Chinese Emperors. A Selection from the Wang Xing Lou Collection, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, 2002, cat. no. 49. Compare a smaller Yongzheng mark and period bowl, in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, included in the Museum’s exhibition Harmony and Integrity. The Yongzheng Emperor and His Times, 2009, cat. no. II-88. See also a pair of Yongzheng doucai cups decorated with this design, from the Meiyintang collection, sold in these rooms, 7th April 2011, lot 6; and two cups, one painted in doucai and the other in underglaze blue only, published in Qing gong ciqi. Nanjing bowuguan zhencang xilie/Imperial Kiln Porcelain of Qing Dynasty. Gems of Collections in Nanjing Museum, Shanghai, 1998, pl. 25.
This design was further developed in the succeeding Qianlong reign, featuring on various vessels and in combination with other decorative schemes; for example see two teapots with coloured grounds, from the Qing court collection and still in Beijing, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Porcelains with Cloisonne Enamel Decoration and Famille Rose Decoration, op. cit., pls 108 and 109.
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