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.
Pair of Chinese porcelain famille verte ginger jars painted with birds in flight amongst flowering prunus branches and a cat looking up at a parrot on a perch above fencing.
Chinese porcelain dated famille verte brushpot, bitong, painted with a scholar seated in the front of a fishing boat looking up at overhanging rockwork, and seated beside a tiered box with an upright handle and a wine jar, being steered by a fisherman holding the rudder, beneath long branches of overhanging pine, with a mountain range, migrating birds and the moon amongst iron-red clouds, within an underglaze blue double-line rectangular frame with chamfered corners. The reverse with a fifty-six character poem in dedication to the Red Cliff, with the date, renchen year, corresponding to 1712, second month of the summer, Wenyuan Yuan qing fu, signed by Xiuyuan, round seal and square seal, mushi ju.
Chinese porcelain famille verte rouleau vase with high shoulder, cylindrical neck and galleried rim, painted on the body in a continuous scene with Xi Wang-mu, The Queen Mother of the West, descending from the Jasper Pool in the clouds with six of her attendants, one holding the giant peach of immortality, others with flute, cymbals, a qin and peacock feather fan, beside her a phoenix bird in flight, approaching the Emperor who wears yellow robes of dragon design, in his palace with generals, dignitaries and attendants amongst rockwork, wutong, banana plant and cranes all beneath a gilt sun, the shoulder with precious object reserves on a geometric ground, the neck with three medallions of Fuxing, seated holding a hu tablet beside a stack of books on a yellow fu-character, Shoulao, in a peach between a crane and scrolls on a green shou-character, and Luxing, seated between a deer and wine jar on an aubergine lu-character beneath the galleried rim with green keyfrets, the base glazed white.
Pair of Chinese porcelain famille verte powder-blue ground chargers each painted in the centre with an octagonal flower head shaped panel, enclosing a scholar holding a fan while crossing a bridge with fish swimming below, his attendant following holding a wrapped qin, two further scholars standing on a rocky promontory, a six-tiered pagoda in the distance with houses and overhanging rockwork with willow and wutong beneath a setting gilt sun, iron-red clouds and birds in flight, encircled by eight lobed reserves, four with fisherman in a river landscape and four with flowering plants and rockwork all heightened with gilt flowers. The underside with a lozenge mark within a double ring in underglaze blue.
Chinese porcelain famille verte café au lait ground bowl and cover, painted on the bowl with a camellia branch and a flowering chrysanthemum branch divided by rockwork with a butterfly in flight, the galleried rim with a flower head border, the well of the interior with a further camellia, the cover similarly painted, the upright finial encircling a hare and moon mark within a double ring in underglaze blue also repeated on the base of the bowl.
Chinese porcelain famille verte wine ewer and cover, the faceted and fluted body of hexagonal form decorated with octofoil shaped reserves with flowering branches of camellia, peony, hibiscus and prunus in an aubergine frame on a green ground with scrolls above a wide band of moulded lotus petals, the sloping shoulder with six further leaf shaped panels of similar flowers beneath the ribbed collar and stylised stiff leaves, the flower shaped mouth fluted with flower heads repeated on the cover with a raised moulded chrysanthemum and hibiscus form finial, the faceted spout similarly decorated, all on a green ground scroll work foot rim.
Chinese porcelain famille verte large charger, painted in the centre with "a golden pheasant" standing on rockwork overlooking a second pheasant amongst large blooms of peony and flowering prunus, beneath a pair of birds in flight, encircled by a prunus flower head band on an iron-red diaper ground, the cavetto painted with eight different petal shape panels including; kingfisher and magpie amongst branches of prunus, camellia and peony and other exotic flowers all on a seed-green ground with flower heads and leaves, encircled by a wide band with six reserves of precious objects including ruyi-sceptre, wrapped qin, weiqi board, counter holders, books, music stones and scrolls on different diaper grounds each with a central stylized mallow flower head, the underside with a branch of prunus and peony. The base with a ribbon mark within a double ring in underglaze blue.
Chinese porcelain famille verte green ground bottle vase painted with yellow arrow vases on pedestal tables between pendant brocade balls and tassels tied with ribbons, the neck with flowering branches of prunus, all on a clear even pale green ground, divided by an iron-red lotus flower head band and beneath lotus petals and scrolls at the slightly flared lip, the base glazed white.
Chinese porcelain famille verte rouleau vase with high shoulder and galleried rim, painted on the body with twelve rectangular panels with chamfered corners of two boys holding baskets amongst rockwork; fisherman in a mountainous river landscape; “golden pheasant" standing on rockwork amongst peony and magnolia, "100 antiques", qilin galloping amongst rocks; chickens beneath prunus; geese beside a river; deer amongst pine and rockwork; butterflies and insects in flight; horses grazing amongst rockwork; tiger looking up at a dragon in the sky in pursuit of a flaming pearl; a phoenix bird beside ducks and other birds looking back at a pair of cranes beneath wutong, interspersed between oval panels drawn within branches depicting flowers alluding to the twelve months, all on a seed-green ground with flower heads above a lotus leaf band, the shoulder with four shou-character reserves on a diaper band, the neck with two panels of a scholar standing beside a bridge in a mountainous river landscape beneath the sun and clouds and a night scene with an equestrian scholar being followed by his attendant in a mountainous river landscape, all on a hexagonal diaper ground with circular floral reserves. The base glazed white with a double-ring in underglaze blue.
Pair of Chinese porcelain famille verte large ovoid vases and covers, each painted with eight panels of swooping birds including kingfishers and magpies, perched amongst flowering peony, prunus, aster and camellia, with rockwork between further panels of ‘100 Antiques’, including brushpots, counter holders, vases, scrolls, wrapped qin, ruyi-sceptre, censers, games boards, brushes and hanging ornaments, all on a seed-green ground heightened with butterflies and other flowers above a wide flower head band at the foot, the shoulders with precious object reserves on a hexagonal diaper ground, the domed covers with ‘100 Antiques’ decoration above a wide band of floral reserves on a similar seed-green ground with butterflies.
Chinese porcelain dated famille verte baluster vase of guanyin zun form, with ribbed cylindrical flared neck, painted on the body in a continuous scene with the famous General and Minister, Guo Ziyi seated beside his wife while being visited by his entire family to celebrate his Seventieth birthday all in front of a crested wave and river landscape screen amongst rockwork and plants, the reverse with his son, Guo Ai, riding an iron-red dappled horse beside rockwork and a twelve-character, two-column dated couplet corresponding to a winter day in the Xinsi year, 1701, with a five-character signature of Yihui Zhuren shu, the neck with a continuous mountain river landscape with a scholar and attendant beneath the moon, all within iron-red double lines. The base with a double ring in underglaze blue.
Chinese porcelain famille verte, large saucer dish with gently flared rim, painted with two seated ladies reeling silk beside a large open window in a covered building with thatched roof with a child watching on, another standing lady holding a candlestick beside a tearful child grabbing her robes while walking on a fenced path all within a walled compound, the base of the walls with crackled brickwork, the foreground with a stream of water, branches and rockwork, all in an evening scene beneath a new moon, stars, ruyi clouds and overhanging wutong branches, a forty-two-character, seven-column poem with an iron-red and gilt two-character seal and leaf mark. The base with a zhi, 'made' mark within a double square, all within a double ring in underglaze blue.
Chinese porcelain famille verte baluster vase of guanyin zun form with cylindrical ribbed neck and flared rim, painted on the body with a continuous scene of twelve ladies at various pursuits including starting a game of weiqi, in a terrace scene in front of a large wave screen, one lady holding a gilt fan, another with gilt ruyi-sceptre and another holding an elaborate wrapped qin, three further ladies standing in a fenced garden, one holding a large wrapped group of scrolls another with a single scroll the third with a gilt sceptre, while three ladies look on from a window beside a table with books and censers, all amongst rockwork, wutong and an iron-red ruyi-head cloud bank, the shoulder with a flower head diaper band, the neck with butterflies amongst flowering chrysanthemum and peony, the base glazed white.
Chinese porcelain famille verte ovoid ginger jar and cover painted with four large petal shaped panels enclosing a kingfisher amongst lotus flowers, leaves, arrow-heads and grasses beneath insects in flight; peony issuing amongst rockwork with daisy and a butterfly in flight; morning-glory issuing from pierced rockwork with a large praying mantis and butterflies; and tree peony amongst rockwork with a large bud and an open-winged butterfly, all on a pale green ground with iron-red chrysanthemum flower head and aubergine branches, the shoulder with precious object reserves on an iron-red reverse technique lotus flower head ground, the cover with a bird perched on a branch amongst flowering rockwork above a ruyi-head and flower head band.
Chinese porcelain famille verte bottle vase with tall cylindrical neck and lipped rim, painted on the body with eight lappets, enclosing open-winged butterflies amongst prunus, peony, lotus, pinks, chrysanthemum and aster on a seed-green ground and four with large chrysanthemum flower heads which suspend different stylised lanterns enclosing a horse, bird and prunus, a sage and a bird and magnolia, all on geometric iron-red cross-hatch grounds, between further pendants of precious objects and lotus bud branches, the shoulder with bands of ruyi, keyfret, diaper and lotus petals, the neck with branches of lotus flowers beneath pendant tassels and jewels and a keyfret band at the rim, the base glazed white.
Pair of Chinese famille verte biscuit porcelain groups of Middle Eastern merchants seated astride standing Buddhist lions, each with open mouth and upright tail, the merchants wearing peeked striped caps with detailed hair-work to their faces, and wearing harlequin style jackets, the yellow-ground lions with moulded trappings, a bell and flames to their bodies all on openwork rectangular shaped stands with chamfered corners, heightened in iron-red and gilt.
Chinese famille verte biscuit porcelain 'piggyback' group modelled as a standing smiling young man wearing long yellow ground floral robes and the official badge of a first-grade civil mandarin beneath three button tied clasps carrying a younger boy on his back who wears an aubergine ground flower head jacket, the base unglazed.
Chinese porcelain famille verte vase of rouleau form, with high shoulder, cylindrical neck, and galleried rim, painted on the body in a continuous scene with ten beautiful ladies of the court, two seated at a table playing weiqi, while another lady rests her elbow at the corner of the table between two other standing ladies holding fans, the reverse with a lady seated at a painting table holding a brush with an inkstone, beside a censer, brushpot and stack of books with three other ladies looking on, a further table adorned with a large wrapped qin, gu-form vase with peacock feathers, another vase holding ornaments and a gilt tripod censer, all amongst black outlined rockwork and plants, the neck with a flowering camellia and chrysanthemum branch with buds and leaves beneath fretwork on the galleried rim. The underside with a square seal mark in a square within a double ring in underglaze blue.
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.