While the production of these wares lasted only a few years and remained a small undertaking, a recurring style soon began to appear. The present bowl was however conceived and painted prior to this standardisation, and before all reign marks were inscribed in blue enamel. On these early wares, the mark was inscribed either in pink, blue or black enamel, the latter being the rarest. No other porcelain bowl with this mark appears to have been published, although Kangxi yuzhi marks in black enamel are known on a small group of wares enamelled on copper, which were decorated in the same workshop in Beijing as the present bowl. These include a cup and saucer, a lobed dish and a snuff bottle in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, illustrated in Enamel Ware in the Ming and Ch’ing Dynasties, Taipei, 1999, pls 84, 94 and 96; and a censer and a saucer in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in Compendium of Collections in the Palace Museum. Enamels, vol. 5, Painted Enamels in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Beijing, 2011, pls 10 and 21.
The Kangxi Emperor was a deeply engaged patron of the arts, and his personal interest in technological innovation played a pivotal role in the development of the decorative arts in his reign. A highly educated and intelligent leader, the Kangxi Emperor was equally interested in embracing Chinese culture and welcoming modern progress, even when it came from outside. To this end, he founded specialised workshops in the Forbidden City, which he staffed with the most creative and technically proficient craftsmen in China, and skilled Jesuit missionaries with knowledge of foreign technology. The workshops were located near his living quarters, allowing the Emperor to observe and comment first-hand scientific experiments and technical procedures.
A falang workshop was established in 1693, and according to a letter by the Jesuit painter Matteo Ripa (1682-1746), by 1716 it was fully functioning (George Loehr, ‘Missionary-Artists at the Manchu Court’, Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, vol. 34, 1962-3, p. 55). The Emperor's interest in foreign enamels derived from French enamelled wares, which had begun arriving at the imperial court in the 1680s, with the first embassies exchanged between Louis XIV (1643-1715) of France and the imperial court in Beijing. The Emperor soon specifically requested foreign artists specialising in enamelling to work at his workshop. Indeed, the earliest enamelled wares were probably all made by foreign artists, who had never worked with porcelain before and considered its shiny and smooth surfaces unsuitable for enamelling.
Porcelain bowls decorated in the palace are vastly different in nature from their counterparts made at the imperial kilns in Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province. Not only were these bowls designed and painted by individual artists, they were also painted with enamels that had never been previously used on porcelain and which were either imported or created in small quantities in the palace workshops. Their introduction dramatically changed the appearance of porcelain and considerably widened the scope of decorative possibilities at the imperial workshops and later also at Jingdezhen. For these enamels to adhere properly to the porcelain, it was thought necessary to specially order from Jingdezhen bowls that were left unglazed on the outside. A striking deep rose-pink enamel derived from colloidal gold and most probably introduced from Europe, was effectively used here to render the velvety petals of the blooms. A white enamel derived from lead arsenate, which had been first made at the glass workshops and used on cloisonné wares, was now mixed with other enamels to create a whole new range of opaque, pastel tones including the pastel blue and purple used here to depict tendrils.
The co-operation between Chinese artists and European Jesuits inside the Forbidden City, and with the potters at the imperial kilns in Jingdezhen, gave rise to a new aesthetic vocabulary that had been unimaginable just decades earlier, and that remained highly influential in the succeeding reigns. Porcelain bowls decorated in the falang workshop fall in two distinct categories: those with fanciful stylised blooms or scrolls as on the present piece, and those with more naturalistic scenes of garden flowers. The latter were more directly influenced by Chinese flower paintings, such as the paintings of Yun Shouping (1633-1690), while the former significantly deviate from the traditional Chinese style of depicting blooms and display more distinctly the influence of Western art. Inspiration for these designs may have come from botanical books and florilegia, which were widely distributed in Europe in this period.
This bowl differs in many respects from other falangcai bowls painted with four floral blooms: its generous use of black enamel to depict the internal petals of the flowers is highly unusual, and the delicate shading of leaves and tendrils imbues this bowl with a particularly evident Western flair. While no other bowl of this design is known, a shallow bowl painted with chrysanthemum blooms with leaves and tendrils rendered in a similar style, in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, is illustrated in Fine Enamelled Ware of the Ch’ing Dynasty. K’ang-hsi Period, Hong Kong, 1967, pl. 13; and a bowl painted with passion flowers, their petals rendered in black enamel, from the Ernest Grandidier collection in the Musée Guimet, Paris, was included in the exhibition From Beijing to Versailles. Artistic Relations Between China and France, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong, 1999, cat. no. 128.
The majority of falangcai bowls of this type are painted against brightly enamelled grounds, yellow being one of the most commonly found, probably favoured for its direct imperial association. Two slightly larger bowls of this type, painted with a floral scroll against a yellow ground, in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, were included in the Museum’s exhibition Ch’ing Dynasty Enamelled Porcelains of the Imperial Ateliers, Taipei, 1992, cat. nos 3 and 4; another 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. 5; a slightly smaller bowl from the Ernest Grandidier collection in the Musée Guimet, was included in Museum’s exhibition op.cit., cat. no. 129; and another bowl from the collection of Sir Percival David, now in the British Museum, London, is illustrated in Rosemary Scott, Illustrated Catalogue of Qing Enamelled Ware in the Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, London, 1991, pl. A806. Three falangcai bowls with a flower scroll against a yellow ground were sold in these rooms, the first from the collection of Paul and Helen Bernat, included in the Oriental Ceramic Society exhibition Arts of the Ch’ing Dynasty, London, 1964, cat. no. 220, sold 15th November 1988, lot 48; the second, 17th November 1975, lot 23; and the third, 29th October 1991, lot 249.
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