The Yen Yen vase

Made in the period of the Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty.

The Yen Yen vase is a Fengweizun, phoenix-tail vase from 1736 – 1795 featuring the nine dragons of the Emperor seal, in underglaze blue and white of the period on an astonishing 17.71 in / 45cm height pure Chinese porcelain.

Allan Banford

Qianlong (1736-1795) porcelain

Widely different, stretching the limits of what was possibly to make. Imitating everything previously done and all kinds of materials (not in blue and white, though but in enamels – imitating wood, bronze, anything.) Skilled craftsmen produced magnificent copies of earlier masterpieces. Overall floral scroll designs characterize the wares of this reign. The paste is dead white. Chinese porcelain is now becoming a standard article in wide use in Europe. Huge amounts of dinnerware (dishes, soup tureens, huge flats dishes, salad bowls, etc.) are exported to Europe in shapes and with decorations designed in Europe, often in a “Chinese” style – called Chinoiserie.

Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) Porcelain

During the first decades of the Qing dynasty which was foremost established around the capital Beijing, in the North, not much if any porcelain was made for the court since the porcelain factory was located in the far from completely subdued South. This early period is therefore called the “transitional period” during which some remarkable good quality pieces was made for local businessmen, scholars and mandarins and for the export trade to Europe via the Dutch East India Company (VOC).

The Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) which followed immediately after the Ming, is by many seen as the most successful of all the Chinese dynasties during the last two millennia. If we look at the period ruled by the three early emperors, KangxiYongzheng and Qianlong this might be true but the disastrous ending from the mid 19th century and onwards indeed takes away some of the luster.

The Qing dynasty was founded by the Aisin Gioro family of the Manchus. The Dynasty was begun earlier then that, in 1616, by Aixinjueluo Nuerhachi under the reign name of Tianming. The reign names (nianhao) are different from the personal name of the emperor and it is this reign name we find on the bases of the Imperial porcelains of the period, not the name of the Emperor himself which we rarely don’t even keep track of. To get on with the story, his son Aixinjueluo Huang-tai-ji used two different reign names during his reign, Tiancong (1627-1636) and Chongde (1636-43). From the Shunzhi period and onwards only the reign names are used when referring to the periods.

During the last period Aixinjueluo Puyi actually ascended the throne in 1908 while the “Xuantong” reign is counted as started 1909. During the latter part of the Qing dynasty the Empress Dowager Cixi (Born 1835), who became dowager on the death of her husband, Xianfeng, in 1861, exerted a considerable influence on the Late Qing court until she died in 1908.

Despite that the Chinese capital Beijing had fallen into the hands of the Manchus, southern China was not completely under Manchu control before 1683. The resistance continued under a number of Ming dynasty princes and because of the strong loyalty towards the Ming, the Qing court were not able to order any “Imperial” porcelain from Jingdezhen in the southern Jiangxi province before about 1683.

This early period is therefore called the “transitional period” during which some remarkable good quality pieces was made for Scholars and Mandarins, and some for export to Japan and Europe via the Dutch East India Company (VOC). The best defines a period called high transition and some pieces from this period features very artistically applied washes of underglaze blue and some even the very difficult underglaze red made from copper oxide.

The decorations show a spontaneous, naturalistic style, the subjects often taken from book illustrations and prints. A vertical cloud often occurs as a divider in the decoration. Borders of thin lines incised near the top and foot rims and a clear blue color on a very white paste are characteristic features. Export porcelains intended for the Japanese market makes up another characteristic group during this period and are often of very special designs. Unglazed bases is a typical feature of this period but is no rule.