Porcelain production during the Yongzheng period (1723-25) took a step away from natural rustic forms and instead focused on refinement, with even thinner potted porcelain wares being produced. Such pieces were exported to Europe in vast quantities due to the ever growing demand for Chinese and Japanese porcelain. The term famille rose, used to describe Chinese ceramics decorated with rose-coloured enamels, was coined by the French Art historian Albert Jacquemart (1808-1875) towards the end of the 19th century in his seminal book L’Histoire de la Céramique. In China, this style of decoration was also termed fencai meaning ‘pale colours’ or yangcai meaning ‘foreign colours’ as they were first introduced from Europe in ca.1685. The style grew in popularity and by the reign of Yongzheng, these shades were favoured over the famille verte style.
The bird depicted in the central cartouche is a silver pheasant (Lophura Nychthemera), native to the mountain forests of Southeast Asia and China. Their name in Chinese is bái xián (白鹇), bái meaning white, and xián meaning quiet and graceful. As greatly respected attributes in Chinese culture, the pheasant came to symbolise beauty and good fortune, and has a mythology connected to Chinese royalty as an emblem of the empress. It is surrounded by peony blossoms, a traditional floral symbol termed 牡丹 (mǔdān) which means ‘the most beautiful’, as well as 富貴花 (fùguìhuā) for ‘flower of riches and honour’. A popular decorative auspicious symbol, the peony is termed the ‘king’ or ‘queen of flowers’, with the combination of flora and fauna a popular design theme on Chinese wares. Despite its strong symbolism in Chinese culture it is unlikely that buyers in the West would have understood the full meaning of the imagery.