Perfume fountain, China, Kangxi Period, 1662-1722 (Porcelain), France, late 18th century (Gilt-bronze), Japan, 18th century (Japanese lacquer), France, 18th century (Flowers). Porcelain, gilt-bronze, Japanese lacquer and flowers, 34 x 32 x 26 cm ( 13.4 x 12.6 x 10.2 in.) © Vanderven Oriental Art

This ornamental object comprises of various elements. The largest piece, is a turquoise glazed biscuit porcelain tripod potpourri, in the shape of a lotus pod. It has leaves around the outside ending in protruding points, the moulded root fronds with leaves run up the side. It has a round cover with holes and a triple gourde finial. It sits over a carp spouting a stream of gilt bronze ‘water’ into a square porcelain basin. The potpourri and fish are mounted on a gilt bronze rockery draped with a fishnets and ropes, the basin rests on square gilt bronze foot with ball feet. Scattered around the basin, are four gilt bronze flower stems with blooms made of European porcelain. The whole is set on a lobed on Japanese black and gold lacquer tray, edged with a wide gilt bronze border with a rope trim, standing on six circular feet. 

Turquoise glazes, which are Islamic in origin, are used on Chinese ceramics from the Song Dynasty (960-1279) onwards. On porcelain they were generally applied to biscuit bodies and re-fired at a lower temperature. This type of porcelain was particularly fashionable in 18th-Century France where this colour was known as bleu celeste.

The collection of Marie Antoinette in the Louvre also hold a perfume fountain with mounted turquoise porcelain now the Musée du Louvre ( OA7).

ProvenancePrivate collection, France.

Lion Dogs, China, Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)

Lion Dogs, China, Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Unglazed pottery. Height 21 cm (8.3 in.). Length 17 cm (7 in.) © Vanderven Oriental Art

A pair of thick unglazed pottery tiles, with a deep edge. In the middle of each tile is a lion dog, moulded in high relief; one facing left, the other right. Both have open mouths, teeth bared and protruding eyes, under bushy eyebrows. The head and chin have a row of stylized curls. The mane runs down the back, ending in a bushy tail. There are traces of white slip and colour pigments, predominantly black, which highlight the eyes, mouth and hair. There are two holes on the bottom of the tiles, probably for fixing them to a surface with pins. They would have been produced using wooden moulds, then individually finished by hand, before firing. Because lion dogs are associated with Buddhism, it can be assumed they once formed part of the decorative scheme of a temple or tomb complex. As they are unglazed, they were made for indoor use.

This type of lion is a very popular motif, often recurring in Chinese art. They are also referred to as a Fo Dogs or Buddhist Lions. They bear little resemblance to real lions, as they are usually stylized as fantastical creatures with exaggerated features. From the Ming Dynasty onwards, they took on a more dog-like appearance, with bulging eyes, pug-like face and a short bushy tail. Allegedly, even Pekinese pugs were even bred to look like them. Lion dogs are generally associated with Buddhism, as legend has it that Buddha once entered a temple and instructed his two accompanying lions to wait outside - which they did dutifully. This is said to be the reason that lions are found at the gates of Buddhist temples and entrances of sacred halls - symbols of guardianship and wisdom.

In the Ming Dynasty, the use of brick and tiles became much more widespread. Particularly for official buildings, palaces and temples; sturdier structures gradually replacing wooden buildings. However, strict sumptuary laws still laid down restrictions for ‘common people’, who were forbidden to use bright colours and were limited in the volume of edifices. In earlier periods, these more durable and more expensive materials were only used in city walls and gates, temples and subterranean tomb architecture. Ever increasing use of tiles and bricks in architecture, was due to technical developments as well as economic growth. This ensured, that by the Ming Dynasty, there was a thriving industry producing glazed and unglazed wares. Although members of the imperial family were certainly the most prestigious client for architectural pottery, the largest customers by far were the numerous temple complexes all over China. 

A slightly earlier unglazed tile, decorated in relief with a lion dog, is in The Metropolitan Museum, New York, has ( The Nanjing Municipal Museum holds a large moulded and sculpted glazed tile, from the Great Monastery of Filial Gratitude (1412-31). Various pottery tiles, glazed and unglazed, are in the collection of the British Museum, London (nr.1983.7-25.1 & 1909.5-12.34).

ProvenancePrivate collection, UK

Dignitaries, China, Tang Dynasty (618-907)

Dignitaries, China, Tang Dynasty (618-907). Terracotta. Height 59 cm (23.2 in.). TL-tested by Oxford Authentication Ltd © Vanderven Oriental Art 

A pair of Chinese terracotta figures representing Chinese Civil Official (wen gong). Both figures hold their hands in front of their body in an honorific manner, and have the serious countenance of a Confucian trained scholar of the Tang era. They are dressed in official court dress comprising a short wide sleeved top robe which is reddish orange and edged with light patterned band embellished with a floral decoration. The long under robes are of a lighter colour. Both figures wear black court hats called jingdeguan (crown for the imparting of virtue), which denote their position as court councilor. The ceremonial breastplates, held in place over the shoulders by black straps, are decorated with naturalistic floral patterns on the front and are plain on the back. The tips of their black pointed ceremonial shoes peep out from under their garments. The faces are decorated in a natural skin colored pigment with individual features picked out in colour, moustaches and eyebrows and red colored lips. All colors are ‘cold decoration’; applied to the figures after the firing had taken place.

ProvenanceWientjes collection, the Netherlands, 2014; purchased from Vanderven at PAN Amsterdam, 1996.

Carp, China, 19th century, circa 1850

Carp, China, 19th century, circa 1850. Dark blue-green and brighter turquoise glaze pottery, 95 x 37 cm (37.4 x 14.6 in.) © Vanderven Oriental Art

A pair of large pottery carp, in a dark blue-green glaze, with some brighter turquoise on the tail, fins and base. Facing upwards, tails flipped, they rest on circular bases with swirling waves in relief. They have smooth heads with protruding round eyes and open mouths, with barbels attached to its upper lip. The body is covered with smooth raised scales and they have a ridged dorsal fin and tail.

According to Chinese belief, carp turn into dragons by leaping the rapids of the Yellow River. Fish leaping from waves are seen a metaphor for transformation and the passage from earth to heaven. This legend is also associated with scholar rising to high office, the mere fish rising to new heights to become a dragon. The carp’s ability to swim upstream against the current, was also likened to the scholar, who arduously perseveres through years of study. But the carp as a roof ornament, specifically expresses the idea of transformation from the earthly world of the roof to the celestial world in the sky above. Fish and water creatures were particularly popular subjects for the ends of the roofs, as the popular belief was that ornamenting roofs with water creatures, would help protect the structure against fire damage. 

Chinese buildings were largely constructed in wood, had pitched roofs and ended curving in eaves. All roof components, including the tiles and ornaments, were made of glazed earthenware (liuli), which were generally produced locally in provincial kilns. Initially, only official buildings (palaces, government buildings, and temples) were permitted to use the more elaborate roof decorations. They were placed along the ridges and as finials. Larger amounts of figures, indicated a building of greater importance, yellow glazed figures exclusively reserved for imperial buildings. Ornamentation was thought to help with communication with the celestial beings, therefore facilitating the attraction of good fortune, protection and blessings. 

The British Museum (London) has a roof finial in the form of a carp (nr. 1938,0524.89), as does the Victoria & Albert Museum, London (C.91-1939).

ProvenancePrivate collection, The Netherlands 2016, purchased in Hong Kong in the early 1990’s.

Vanderven Oriental Art at TEFAF New York Fall 2017, Stangd 61Primary Address: Nachtegaalslaantje 1, s-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands. T  +31736146251 - -

Dealer in Asian Art since 1968. Mainly dealing in Chinese porcelain, terracotta and works of art from the 17th and 18th century. Sourcing worldwide and selling to collectors and museums around the world . Exhibiting in TEFAF Maastricht, Fine Arts Asia Hong Kong.