Chinese porcelain famille verte skull cup and cover, kapala, of oval form on a triangular moulded pedestal stand surmounted at
each point with three male heads all between gilt stylised flames on a pale green ground, the cover decorated with a wide band of the bajixiang each within an oval frame of branches and leaves and beneath a band of ruyi-clouds and a lotus flower head scrolling band at the rim, surmounted by a moulded gilt flaming jewel finial.

5 7/8 inches, 14.9 cm high, 4 7/8 inches, 12.3 cm wide.

Kangxi, circa 1720.

五彩首爵 清康熙  J. P. Morgan 先生舊藏


Crack in original finial.

Provenance & Additional Information

  • Formerly in the J. P. Morgan Collection, collection no. 849. John Pierpont Morgan, (1837-1913) was known as the world’s most famous banker and financier. He was instrumental in the formation of General Electric, American Steel and AT&T.
    Shortly before his death in 1913, it was reported that the Qing Imperial Family sought to sell the entire Imperial Collection through his agent in Beijing. Morgan was rumoured to have offered four million US Dollars for the entire collection. Unfortunately, Morgan died at the end of the month while his staff were negotiating via telegram and the deal was never concluded.
  • Included by Stephen W. Bushell and William Mackay Laffan in, The Catalogue of The Morgan Collection of Chinese Porcelains, New York, 1907, Vol. I, no. 849, p. 153, where the author notes in the description, “A curious bowl-shaped receptacle of Buddhist design for chips of sandalwood, supported by three heads emerging from the waves of a primeval sea”.
  • Sold by Duveen Brothers Inc., New York.
  • Formerly in the collection of the St. Louis Art Museum, inventory no. 146:15A&B.
  • Included by Marchant in their exhibition of Kangxi Famille Verte, 2017, no. 37, pp. 108-109.
  • This covered bowl is an imitation of the kapala bowls, or skull cups used in Tibetan Buddhist ritual. They represent the impermanence of all worldly things and symbolise the cooking of offerings. While other Tibetan Buddhist metalwork objects are known to have been copied in porcelain from the Kangxi to Qianlong reigns, kapala bowls in porcelain are extremely rare.
  • A kapala skull cup made in the 18th Century with human skull, silver gilt base and cover with inlaid jewels, of similar form and design, from the collection of The Palace Museum, Beijing, Gu 85717, was included in the exhibition of, China, The Three Emperors, 1662-1795, The Royal Academy of Arts, 2005, no. 58, pp. 152 & 403.
  • No other porcelain examples appear to be published.
  • Included by Marchant in their catalogue of Recent Acquisitions, 2006, no. 32, pp. 58-59.