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.
Chinese porcelain famille verte dish with gently flared rim, painted with a bearded figure with bulging eyes wearing cloud scroll robes, being sent away by an official in front of a further standing dignitary on a palace terrace, all amongst fencing with faux marble and two attendants, one holding a large fan, with plantain in the background, the underside with viewing pavilions amongst rockwork. The base with a shell mark within a double ring in underglaze blue.
Chinese porcelain famille verte, rouleau vase with high shoulder, cylindrical ribbed neck and galleried rim, painted on the body in a continuous scene with the Tang Dynasty General Guo Ziyi, celebrating his sixtieth birthday amongst his family, including eleven boys, young men, two young girls and other scholars, dignitaries and attendants with one boy seated at a table in an iron red chair pretending to paint in front of a crested wave screen and four other young men bowing at each other while standing on an elaborate floral rug, all in a curtained open terrace scene with fencing, rockwork, wutong and an iron-red cloud bank, the neck with a flowering peony branch amongst rockwork with large buds and leaves and two birds in flight. The base glazed white with a double ring in underglaze blue.
Chinese porcelain famille verte saucer dish with gently flared rim, painted in the centre with the bearded equestrian warrior Zhang Fei of dark complexion holding a spear while riding a black enamelled horse beside his bannerman, surrounded by four other equestrian warriors including the confronting Zhang He with a standing general behind rockwork and the General Wei Yan in an encampment in the distance indicated by halberds and spears, all amongst rockwork and plants with an iron-red cloudbank dividing the distance, the underside with a channel foot rim. The base with a six-character mark of Chenghua within a double ring in underglaze blue.
Chinese porcelain famille verte rectangular tile, painted with a bird on flowering prunus tree emerging from rockwork, amongst peonies, another bird flies at his side, within a border of ten chrysanthemum iron-red flower heads on a floral diaper ground.
A Chinese porcelain small powder blue bottle vase with bulbous neck and gently flared mouth, painted on either side with four foliate panels of flowers and foliage alternating with a smaller foliate panel on either side containing precious objects, a fan shaped panel on either side of the shoulder contains further flowers and rock work, all heightened in gilt.
A Chinese porcelain famille verte moulded dish with foliate rim, painted in the centre with a lady seated at a table in a terraced garden scene, beside rockwork and a peacock standing on rockwork, encircled by 12 double lobed panels each containing birds flying above peonies and chrysanthemum, the rim with band of iron red diaper, the underside painted with two phoenix birds between peony heads and scrolling leaf motif.
A pair of "Chinese taste" famille verte porcelain saucer dishes, each painted with two cranes standing in a lotus pond with leaves and aquatic plants, butterflies and insects fly above, beneath an iron- red setting sun and clouds.
A Chinese porcelain famille verte large plate painted in bright enamels and iron red, the centre with a standing deer in a landscape garden scene beside a pine tree, a flying crane looking down, all beneath a gilt sun, encircled by a decorative diaper border divided by four floral panels, further encircled by six flying cranes on the flat everted rim, encircled by a further continuous iron red cell band with a gilt edge, the underside with two floral sprays in iron-red.
A pair of Chinese porcelain famille verte cake stands, tazza, each painted on the saucer shape top with a basket of peony beside two stacks of books encircled by precious objects including scrolls and ruyi-sceptres each tied with ribbons, beneath a flowerhead band at the rim, the underside with three branches of prunus sprays in iron-red, all on a stem foot with a lotus petal, keyfret and jewelled band.
A Chinese porcelain famille verte hexagonal puzzle ewer and cover, painted on the body with panels of mythological animals between branches of flowering plants between bands of flowers, precious objects, scrolls and diaper bands, all on a pedestal foot with precious objects repeated on the cover.
A Chinese porcelain famille verte large fluted flower-form dish with foliate rim, painted in the centre with a battle scene of three equestrians, bannermen and a swordsman in a landscape with rockwork, encircled by six wide panels, two with mythological animals, two with ‘Hundred Antiques’ and two with flowers, between baluster-form divides. The underside with a large artemisia leaf mark within a double ring in underglaze blue.
A pair of Chinese porcelain famille verte small saucer dishes, each painted in the centre with a basket of flowering plants, lotus, aster, prunus, and orchid, within a border of four panels on a diamond diaper ground, the base with mirror mark within a double ring.
A pair of Chinese porcelain famille verte powder blue ground ovoid vases with short flared neck and galleried rim, each painted with four decafoil lobed panels enclosing respectively; a flock of birds beneath the moon over a mountainous river landscape with pine and other trees; flowering peony plants emerging from rockwork; antiques comprising a beaker vase with coral branch, a scroll, artemisia leaf, incense burner and ruyi sceptor; flowering pinks emerging from rockwork, the ground heightened in gilt with lotus branches.
A pair of Chinese porcelain famille verte large dishes, each with fluted bodies and petal shaped upright rims, painted in the centre with openwork black and aubergine enamelled bordered baskets of flowers with peony, chrysanthemum, lotus, camellia, daisy and prunus amongst other buds and leaves encircled by a border with precious object reserves on different diaper grounds, the border with twelve lappet shaped panels of different flowers each representing a month, including chrysanthemum, lotus, camellia, peony, prunus and aster beneath a flower head band at the rim, the underside with three flower sprays, the underside with an underglaze blue music stone mark within a double ring.
A pair of Chinese porcelain, famille verte moulded and fluted kendis, the bodies of lotus flower form with twelve large petals each painted with branches of flowers, above two bands of iron-red, yellow and aubergine enamel lotus petals, the fluted neck similarly decorated beneath a ribbed collar and a double petal moulded rim, the bulbous spout also of moulded lotus flower form with large iron-red petals.
A pair of Chinese porcelain famille verte circular lobed rim plates, the centre painted with peonies and pomegranate plants emerging from rockwork, butterfly and insects above, all within a six-panelled border of flowering plants on various diaper grounds, the underside with three flowering branches.
A Chinese porcelain famille verte dish with flat everted rim and foliate edge, painted in the centre with a qilin looking up at a phoenix bird in flight, amongst flowering peony with pine tree, lingzhi and rockwork, beneath clouds and the moon, encircled by a shaped wide band divided into eight panels, painted with fabulous creatures including, speckled feline, Buddhist lion, qilin and phoenix, deer and crane, between chrysanthemum, lotus, peony and camellia, the rim with butterfly reserves on a flower head diaper ground.
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.