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Cup and Saucer

by Olivia Holder

Unidentified Artist
Chinese, Qianlong reign, 1736-1795
Cup and Saucer, c. 1760
Porcelain with polychrome decoration and marbled grounds
Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Gift of Richard D. Pardue

Dating to c. 1760, this polychrome cup and saucer pair makes manifest the transcultural forces that characterized life during the period. Although it was made in China during the Qianlong reign, this set was designed to appeal to the Western eye.

Vibrant, whimsical flowers are colored in exotic, bright blues, pinks, and oranges and separated from the rim of the plate and rest of the cup by a scalloped border. The plate’s rim and cup’s body are colored with a marbled blushing pink that nods to the peach bloom glaze that was popular in China during the first half of the eighteenth century.

Ceramics with the pink palette that this pair boasts are referred to as fencai (soft colors) or yangcai (foreign colors) in Chinese, and, in French, famille rose (pink family). This palette was used in Europe long before it was seen in China, and some assert that this technique spread to China by way of the Jesuit missionaries living in China (A Handbook of Chinese Ceramics 244).

Against the pink background are the painterly branches that frame the symmetrically placed floral sprays and peach blossoms. These four auspicious blossoms symbolize longevity (A Handbook of Chinese Ceramics 256). It is not clear whether this desire for longevity is wished upon the recipient or whether it is directed toward China’s interactions with the West, but with the robust dialogue between China and Europe, it may be both.



Valenstein, Suzanne G. A Handbook of Chinese Ceramics. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 01 Jan 1989.


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