In the wonderfully rich and varied history of Chinese ceramics, famille verte porcelain is considered by many to be amongst its most exquisite. Literally ‘green family’, famille verte was so named by French art historian Albert Jacquemart whose classification of ceramics in the 1860s according to the colour of the enamel used remains in use to this day and includes famille jaune (yellow), famille rose (red) and famille noire (black).
Unusually for most types of wares, famille verte Chinese porcelain (typically known in China as wucai, or ‘five colours’) can be dated very accurately to Kangxi, the fourth Emperor of the Qing dynasty whose reign of 61 years between 1661 and 1722 makes him the longest reigning emperor in Chinese history. More specifically, the zenith of famille verte production was during a four-decade period between 1685 and 1725 with the majority of pieces including the famed famille verte ginger jars being made at the imperial kilns in Jingdezhen, China’s ‘porcelain city.’
Made with a highly refined paste resulting in an exceptionally fine grade of ceramic ware, famille verte Chinese porcelain is identifiable by it’s vivid green enamels and polychromatic overglaze colours including stunning yellow, red, blue and black and much less common but equally as beautiful, gold. It’s largely due to the nature of the glaze that famille verte porcelain is renowned for its unique iridescence and translucence, perhaps why it was so highly prized and desirable by late-seventeenth and early-eighteenth century European consumers and remains so today.
A Chinese porcelain famille verte wine pot and cover of bell form, painted on each side with two ladies seated in conversation, one holding a fan, the other a sceptre, beside a day bed with a wrapped qin, and beside a table with books, each beside a screen, fence and rockwork, within an iron red frame and between a branch of iron-red prunus flowers, the upright rim with keyfret, the cover with stylised flower heads, the gate form handle imitating wicker-work.
Kangxi famille verte biscuit porcelain hexagonal openwork brushpot, bitong, with a galleried rim, each side with a central circular medallion enclosing flowers and insects, the openwork cash and honeycomb ground between flowerheads on a seed green ground, beneath a flat rim and recessed top edge with iron-red triangular diaper, the base with six bracket aubergine feet with a faux bois design.
Pair of Chinese porcelain famille verte seated foreign figures of dark complexion, squatting on high rectangular plinths, holding quatrefoil oval trays modelled as candelabras above their heads, their robes decorated with floral lotus design, the plinth edges mounted in metal.
A Chinese porcelain famille verte biscuit fruit pyramid group in luminous sancai tones, with ripe pomegranate, peaches and finger citrons, all on an octagonal dish, the base unglazed.
Chinese porcelain conical bowl of brinjal type, carved on the exterior with three branches of camellia, the branches brown, the leaves green, the flower heads white, all on a rich even yellow ground, the interior with a lingzhi, the base with a square mark within a double ring in underglaze blue.
A pair of Chinese famille verte biscuit porcelain figures of the standing immortals Lan Caihe holding a flower basket and Zhang Guolao holding a musical instrument, they wear green robes decorated with fruits and flowers, they stand on openwork rectangular plinths decorated with a diaper pattern.
A Chinese porcelain famille verte, wucai brush pot painted with two panels with a pair of elegant standing ladies, each looking down at two chickens beside a table, stools, a pierced rockwork stand, holding a censer and cup and two vessels, all in a fenced scene with a red sun and insects in flight, the reverse with a fishing boat moored by a rocky promontory in a mountainous river landscape scene beside a viewing pavilion, beneath a moon, the base unglazed with recessed base centre.
A Chinese porcelain famille verte fluted hexagonal chamber stick painted with flower heads and branches in fan shaped panels encircling the central candle holder, all on three biscuit feet.
A pair of Chinese porcelain famille verte bottle vases each painted with a phoenix bird standing on pierced rockwork amongst peony flower heads and buds, beneath a swooping bird.
A Chinese porcelain famille verte plate painted in the centre with a boy holding a continuous branch of flowering peony in blue, aubergine and iron-red enamel, encircled by a floral band in the cavetto and a wide lappet floral band on the rim, the underside with four precious objects, pearl, lozenge, music stones and chime, all in green enamel, tied with an iron red ribbon, the base with a lozenge mark in underglaze blue in a double ring.
A pair of Chinese porcelain famille verte saucer dishes with openwork cash border, painted in the centre with two standing ladies beside a boy in a fenced garden scene with overhanging wutong branches.
A Chinese famille verte biscuit porcelain figure of the standing immortal Lu Dongbin holding a fly whisk in his left hand, wearing green ground robes with prunus flower heads and shou character circular medallions, tied at the waist with a black belt, standing on a raised rectangular base.
A Chinese famille jeune biscuit porcelain figure of the immortal Dongfang Shuo holding a fruiting peach branch in his right hand, his hair in two knots on either side of his head and with a long beard, wearing long yellow robes decorated all over in flowering blossom sprays, standing on a green rectangular base.
A Chinese porcelain famille verte hexagonal teacup and saucer, the saucer painted in the centre with a table displaying precious objects, vase with peacock, flower and coral, encircled by a border with three panels of boys and three panels of a bird perched on a branch, the cup similarly decorated, the underside of each with a ‘G’ mark within a double ring in underglaze blue.
Chinese porcelain famille verte large dish with flat everted rim painted in the centre with the Yang family women practicing their equestrian skills beside a building and beneath an arbour on different coloured horses of iron-red enamel, black, aubergine, yellow, green and piebald with a seated lady and her attendants overlooking from a covered terrace with ruyi-head wall and striped roof all beneath a gilt sun and iron-red ruyi-head clouds, the wide border with hydrangea, lotus, peony, pinks, daisies, prunus and hibiscus amongst other flowers between underglaze blue lines. The underside with three branches of peony in underglaze blue, iron-red and gilt.
Pair of Chinese porcelain famille verte large two handled fish bowls, painted on both sides with branches of flowering peony amongst daisies, with chrysanthemum sprays beneath the biscuit lion mask handles, all between iron-red bands of stylised leaves and chrysanthemum flower heads, the waist with reserves of flowers on a geometric iron-red and gilt ground with chrysanthemum flower heads, each interior painted with forty-one carp, two shrimp and two crabs amongst aquatic plants, all beneath the flat everted lipped rim, painted with reserves of fish alternating with shrimp on a geometric cash diaper ground with chrysanthemum flower heads and scrolls on the rim.
A very rare Chinese porcelain famille verte cylindrical apothecary jar and domed cover, painted on the body with a continuous wide band with branches and flowers including chrysanthemum, mallow, daisy, prunus and pomegranates on an aubergine ground amongst pierced rockwork, all between underglaze-blue lines, the cover painted with two pheasants, one standing on rock work beside a lotus pond with overhanging willow and a ruyi-head band beneath the finial, the flat cover rim band with flowerhead reserves on a diaper ground, all between underglaze blue lines.
Chinese porcelain famille verte, wucai teapot and cover, the body of lobed baluster form on three low feet, the C-shaped handle and the curved spout have flat sides, the low-domed lobed cover with floral knop, painted in green and yellow enamels and iron-red with two wide panels, one enclosing two ducks swimming amongst lotus, the other with pheasant on rockwork amongst peony blooms, two other smaller panels either side of the spout and handle containing different flowering plants emerging from rockwork.
Further information on Famille Verte
As well as dishes, bowls, plates vases and figurines, the famille verte ginger jar was among a collection of more luxurious items that included monteiths (large ornamental bowls used for cooling wine glasses) made for the export market. But as was commonplace, the very finest pieces of famille verte porcelain, including a number of magnificent famille verte ginger jars, were reserved for the Imperial court.
Famille verte Chinese porcelain showed off the enamellers’ skill and included exceptionally detailed depictions of flowers, animals, figurative scenes and landscapes. In addition, many are based on ancient Chinese literary sources and they would painstakingly copy the woodcut illustrations used in books. Perhaps the most famous literary depiction on famille verte porcelain, including famille verte ginger jars, is from the Romance of the Western Chamber written by Yuan dynasty playwright Wang Shifu in the thirteenth century about a young couple who fell in love in secret without parental approval, a book that is still immensely popular today.