Tea bowl and saucer

DATE: 1736-1795 (made)
PLACE: China (made)
MATERIALS AND TECHNIQUES: Porcelain, with painted decoration

This teabowl and saucer were produced during a prosperous and innovative time for Chinese ceramic production, driven by the prolific export of ceramics to the West. The decoration depicts a hen and cockerel mating, a motif used on Chinese porcelain due to its symbolic nature. In Chinese culture, the cockerel is the 10th symbolic animal of the ‘Twelve Terrestrial Branches’ representing life of the universe and prosperity, due to their ability for quick reproduction. As a result, the animal is used throughout the Chinese marriage ceremony, leading the couple into a happy future. Birds were a popular decorative theme on Chinese porcelain in the early 18th century, with cockerels depicted more than any other bird. A matched cockerel and hen in turn symbolise a pair of Mandarin ducks which mean a blissful pairing of love. In other surviving examples where this motif appears, the hen and rooster are overlooked by a female figure or courting couple, an extenson of its romantic symbolism.