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 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, 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.
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 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 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.
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.