The thick-walled porcelain jar of baluster shape is painted with an exuberant, very dense polychrome enamel design consisting of two yellow lions frisking among the vines alternating with two tamer lions in green and yellow, each surrounded by large peony blossoms in yellow, iron red and aubergine all borne on sweeping green vines and a proliferation of green leaves, all outlined in black, the leaves interspersed with larger underglaze-blue leaves, also ringing the shoulder beneath a border of underglaze-blue “cracked ice.” An unusual detail on this jar is the two-character inscription written in cobalt beneath one of the upright leaves of red, green and blue that encircle the neck: xunsheng, “prosperous life.”
Overglaze-enamel colors and the lively designs they create took on a particularly jubilant nature in at least one area of ceramic production from the mid-Ming dynasty onward. These ceramics are carnival-like, a bit wild, and fun, ruled a kind of comfortable chaos. By the end of the Ming some novel compositional modes that dispensed with panels and borders had developed and provided perfect accommodations for historical and literary scenes that were becoming the vogue, and in the present case is the preserve of flora and fauna.
A closely related wucai lion-and-peony decorated jar of similar shape in the Tokyo National Museum is attributed to the 17th-18th century, although we would tend to ascribe it to the 17th rather than later.1 Similar in design but on an updated shape, attributed to the Shunzhi period of the early Qing. is a marvelous tall vase in the Palace Museum in Beijing, its slender body wrapped with green stems that sprout green and blue leaves and brilliant red peonies, with interestingly, a cracked ice border pattern related to the present.2
1. See Illustrated Catalogue of the Tokyo National Museum, Chinese Ceramics II, Tokyo, 1990, fig. 601.
2. See Porcelains in Polychrome and Contrasting Colours: The Complete Collection of the Treasures of the Palace Museum, Shanghai, 1999, cat. no. 61.