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Oriental China - Powdered Blue

( Originally Published 1911 )

The powder or powdered blue family has been referred to already and the manner in which the blue is applied has been explained. Though this colour, like the others, had perhaps its rise, and its greatest perfection, in the Kang-he period, yet many specimens of extremely fine quality are ascribed to Yungching and Keen-lung. There are, however, no specimens of true powder-blue that belong to any other than the Kang-he period. The art was evidently lost, and when it was attempted, in the reign of the Emperor Keen-lung, the nearest approach was what is known as mazarine blue, which is entirely different, being much heavier in tone and not powdered, and it is these pieces which have "famillerose" decoration, and this places beyond all doubt the period to which they belong. Where the powder-blue has reserves, as is almost always the case, they may be filled with decoration in blue under the glaze, or with "famille verte" applied over the glaze. Or again, and in the later periods of Yung-ching and Keen-lung, the various shaped white reserves may have "famille rose" decoration. Similar flowers were used in decorating these pieces in reserves, as we have mentioned before. A general test of the older pieces is the presence of the joo-e head, which either ornaments the rims in small panels or is the shape adopted for the large panels. These are decorated with garden landscapes with figures, and official emblems in various colours such as green, yellow, grey, red, and even other blue enamel colours. Other scenes represent the god of longevity presenting the red peach of long life to a child held by a person of rank. Generally, however, the subjects used have decorations varying comparatively little, although t treatment of these subjects differs considerably in tie colour scheme.


(a) A powder-blue Pot and Cover. The body has two large square-shaped panels decorated with flowers, birds, &c., in "famille verte" ; it also has two panels form of pomegranate fruit decorated in greens and red, and two fan-shaped panels with flowers in black on a yellow ground. The lid has two panels form of peach fruit in greens and red, and two fan-shaped panels with flowers, &c., in " tamale verte." Very unusual specimen. Kang-he.

A pair of powder-blue teapots relieved with panels decorated with flowers in "famille verte." The lids are surmounted with so-called kylins, dogs of Fo, or Corean lions. Kang-he.

(b) An elegant-shaped powder-blue Vase, relieved with various Joo-ehead panels, decorated with flowers, &c., beautifully enamelled in " 1 famille verte," with gold pencilling between panels. Mounted with a rim of ormolu. Kang-he.

A pair of powder-blue bottle-shaped Vases with three Joo-e-headshaped panels on the body, decorated with vases, utensils, &c., in blue and white, and three leaf-shaped panels decorated with flowers, butter-flies, &c., on the neck, also in blue and white. Kang-he period. The panels of vases, &c., are often decorated with emblems of the seasons by means of flowers and landscapes. Thus, spring may be shown by a mountain scene with the prunus or peach in bloom before its leaves appear, or by another with two ladies under the willow. Spring flowers are the large white magnolia or the yulan with the peony. The yulan magnolia is often confounded with the guelder-rose, though the former, like the peach, blossoms before its leaves appear. It is a magnolia, one of eighty-five species. Summer is pictured by pines, poplars, reeds, lotus, hydrangea, pinks, and flags ; autumn by chrysanthemums, birds, butterflies, russet leaves of the oak and its acorns, by scenes of ladies gathering fruit, and of swollen rivers and autumn tints generally. Winter is indicated by the prunus or plum, by early roses or winter scenes.


A pair of very fine quality, large size, powder-blue Plates with Joo-e-shaped panels in the centre, and eight small panels or reserves r ound the border. It will be noticed that the patterns of the decoration on the two plates is not the same. The central panel on the left has a fine landscape with figures in conversation. The smaller panels are alternately decorated with a small landscape, and with flowers. The gilt pattern, too, so often used with powder-blue, and so quickly lost, is clearly shown on the blue ground, giving a further decoration of flowers not alone in compartments, but also over all the blue surface. The other plate has the central panel decorated with a landscape and some striking cloud forms. The small panels are all decorated with flowers. There ane only traces of the formal golden chrysanthemum pattern, which, besides, is again different to that on the other plate. Both have a mountainous coast scene in the distance with a pagoda and trees. Both, too, in middle distance a house and a weeping willow. Besides this class of powder-blue with green family decoration, it is also 'cry effective, though not so brilliant, with blue under-glaze landscapes, figures, and flowers in similar panels to those we have described—that is, the Joo-e-head panel. Special attention should be paid to the variation of the Joo-e outline. The Too-e-head itself is given amongst the symbolical marks. The catalogue description is sometimes like this, Joo-e head-shaped reserwes," or again "Joo-e-head-shaped Y diaper." Kang-he period.


A pair of mazarine blue Jars and Covers, having two leaf-shaped panels. These are from a set of five, three vases and two beakers. These are finely deconated with storks and other birds and flowers in "famille rose " enamel. Various small panels as on the covers are similarly deconated with flowers. The covers themselves are surmounted by dogs of Fo or Corean lions. These are ascribed to Keen-lung, and may be taken as an attempt to copy Kang-he powder-blue. They are covened with a rich blue enamel named mazarine, after the cardinal of that name. This is opaque and generally darker in colour than the powder-blue. One is applied as a colour enamel—that is mazarine ; the other is colour powdered or dabbed on—that is powder-blue. The mazarine blue comes really under the Celadon class as a "self " colour. The leaf-shaped panels or reserves are in white surrounded by a faint dull red outline of the leaf. The blue enamel is not alone used with " famille rose" decoration as in the illustration, but it is also combined with famille verte " either with or with-out red scroll-work as a ground diaper. The vases made in pairs have usually a right and a left—that is, the pattern is reversed. Here we have an example of the contrany, the two specimens are identical. The leaf-panel runs down from the top to the point at the bottom on the right in both, and birds, flowers, and trees are as nearly alike as possibly could be expected.

NOTE,—The decoration in blue enamel colour was an addition of the early part of the Tsing dynasty; no Ming specimen has been identified having the blue over the glaze.

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