Porcelain painted in overglaze famille verte enamels and gilt; H. 18 in. (45.7 cm)
Bequest of John D. Rockefeller Jr., 1960 (61.200.66)
The possibilities of painting porcelains and colored enamels, which were so successfully developed during the Ming dynasty, were exploited to the fullest in the Qing period. Essentially the same low-fired enamels were now used with such authority that Qing polychrome-decorated porcelains outshine all others. The stellar polychrome decoration of the Kangxi period, the famille verte palette of enamels, takes its name from several distinctive shades of green that are almost invariably present in the color scheme. Famille verte enamels are brightly colored and translucent: they have been applied rather thickly over the darker outlines and details. In addition to the various greens, the famille verte colors include yellow; aubergine; coral-toned iron-red (rather flat and almost opaque); white (achieved by allowing the pure body to show through a clear enamel); and black (a composite color made of matte brownish black pigment covered with green, aubergine, or clear enamel). The blue enamel in this assortment of colors is different from the Ming-dynasty turquoise-tinted blue enamel; it is more violet or royal blue in tone. Like their Ming antecedents, these translucent famille verte enamelsappropriately named yingcai ("hard colors") by the Chinesedid not permit much gradation in color, and the effects of shading had to be relegated to finely penciled lines in the preliminary drawing.
When used over the glaze, the famille verte enamels present a somewhat different appearance. Supported by the lustrous glaze, they stand radiant and clear against the white ground that forms an integral part of the total composition. In addition to being used with the usual overglaze blue enamel of the palette, overglaze famille verte enamels are sometimes found in conjunction with underglaze cobalt-blue painting, and occasionally both underglaze and overglaze blue can be seen on the same object. Touches of gilt were often added to this group, providing an especially lively accent.
The designer's imagination has seldom been more fruitful or wider in scope than on these sumptuous porcelains, which offer a galaxy of motifs handled in an almost infinite variety of ways.