To the Chinese the peach was 'the fairy fruit', the substance that gave immortality to the gods. It was also a symbol of spring and an emblem of marriage. The ripening fruits depicted on this fine porcelain bowl might indicate that it was intended as a wedding gift. The overall decoration certainly carries good wishes for the owner.
A single branch of a blossoming peach tree extends from the foot of the bowl and curves over the lip to the interior. Five red bats flit around the fruit and flowers. These are the Wu Fu, 'the five bats of happiness', that represent five blessings: long life, wealth, health, the cultivation of virtue and a natural death. The Chinese word for bat sounds the same as that for 'good fortune'. And red itself is, in China, the colour of joy.
The quality of the decoration reinforces this positive feeling. The detail and the observation of nature are delightful: the bats with their whiskers and lively, beady eyes; the blushing peaches, speckled to suggest their texture; the blossoms with their subtle shades of yellow, purple and pink; the mossy, gnarled branch from which they grow. The pure white background of the glazed porcelain suggests that the scene is taking place in some some idyllic realm.
The delicate purples, pinks and reds are from the famille rose palette developed in China in the early eighteenth century. The colours reflect a Western influence that perhaps came via European Jesuit monks in the Far East.
To this day, porcelain or porcelain-like vessels are called 'china' regardless of their place of origin. Since the third century BCE, the country had been producing large quantities of high-quality lead-glazed earthenware. A mark on the bottom of the bowl identifies it as a product of the reign of the emperor Ch'ien Lung (1711–99), who was a particularly active patron of the ceramic factory at Jingdezhen in south-eastern China.
Hard-paste porcelain bowl painted in enamel colours. The steep rounded sides rest on a high, very slightly tapered foot and gently flare beneath the lipped rim. The exterior is painted with two fruiting and flowering branches of peach extending over the rim to encompass the interior. One branch in delicately shade tones of olive brown, the other in lavender grey outlined in sepia, both dotted with pale blue spots of lichen. The half open, and fully open, flowers are in pale pink with deeper rose coloured undersides and in white, tinged with pale green, the stamen in yellow and the foliage in finely controlled shades of turquoise and pale green. The exterior with four large fruits in lime-green shading to puce, with three vigorously painted iron-red bats hovering in flight nearby. The interior with two further fruits and two bats, together with those on the exterior forming the wufu. Seal mark of Qianlong in underglaze blue.
Unknown before testator
Reginald R. Cory Bequest