Tea bowl and saucer

DATE: ca.1740-1750 (made)
PLACE: China (made)
MATERIALS AND TECHNIQUES: Porcelain painted with enamels and gilt

Armorial porcelain became increasingly fashionable among wealthy families in Britain and Europe during the 18th century. These porcelain sets with specially commissioned decoration were luxury items and could cost up to ten times more than regular Chinese export porcelain. Family coat of arms would be drawn up and taken to Canton by East India Company ships, where Chinese merchants would reproduce the coat of arms onto porcelain with colourful enamels. These commissions could take more than two years to return to England and mistakes were not uncommon.

This tea bowl and saucer were part of a large porcelain service for Theodorus van Reverhorst (1706-58), who served as a member of the Dutch East India Company’s Court of Justice in the port of Batavia from 1735 to 1752. This service is a unique illustration of a family tree on Chinese porcelain. The central coat of arms are his, while those surrounding belong to his forebears. Van Reverhorst’s maternal line is depicted on the right hand side, with his paternal line to the left. The vibrancy of the heraldic ornament and the gilt shell and scroll borders suggest van Reverhorst took pride in his ancestry.