A famille verte 'Prunus' 'Month' cup, Kangxi six-character mark in underglaze-blue within a double circle and of the period (1662-1722)

Lot 1223. A famille verte 'Prunus' 'Month' cup, Kangxi six-character mark in underglaze-blue within a double circle and of the period (1662-1722); 2 in. (4.9 cm.) high. Estimate USD 70,000 - USD 90,000Price realised USD 162,500. © Christie's Images Ltd 2017 

The cup is delicately enameled on one side of the exterior with a flowering prunus tree, narcissus and bamboo growing from a rocky outcrop, and the reverse with a ten-character poetic inscription referring to the scene, followed by a seal mark, shang ('appreciation').

Property from the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation, New York 

NoteThis small, exceptionally thinly potted cup is from one of the imperial sets of wine cups depicting the Flowers of the Twelve Months. A complete set of twelve month cups in the collection of the Percival David Foundation is illustrated by R. Scott in Elegant Form and Harmonious Decoration - Four Dynasties of Jingdezhen Porcelain, Percival David Foundation, London/Singapore, 1992, p. 113, no. 122.

Each of these cups was decorated in a particularly finely painted version of the wucai palette, with rocks and clumps of grass painted in a soft underglaze blue, while the majority of the decoration is rendered in overglaze famille verte enamels. 

The status of these cups can perhaps be judged by the fact that at the end of the inscription, which accompanies the decoration on each cup, there is an underglaze blue seal character which reads: shang. This character may be translated as 'enjoy', for example to enjoy or appreciate the flowers depicted. However, in this context it is more probable that it should be translated as 'reward', with the implication of being bestowed by a superior (in this case the emperor) as a reward for meritorious service.

The current cup is representative of the 11th month of the Chinese lunar calendar, usually identified by the flowering prunus (meihua) tree growing from rocks amidst bamboo and narcissus.
The inscription reads: 

Su yen xue ning shu, qing xiang feng man zhi ('The prunus blossom is pure like snow on the tree, its subtle fragrance moves like breeze through the branches.') 

Cups from these 'Twelve Months' sets have always been greatly prized for their delicacy, the artistry of their decoration, and for the pleasing relationship between the designs and the poems chosen to complement them. If, in addition, they were received from the emperor as gifts in honor of services rendered to the throne, they would have been even more greatly treasured.

Christie's. Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, 14 - 15 September 2017, New York