The blue pigment used to create the painted decoration on this teapot is taken from the ground mineral of cobalt oxide. The pigment was mixed with water and applied with a brush to the unfired porcelain surface, which was then covered with a clear glaze for firing in the kiln. Referred to as ‘nameless rarity’ (wuming yu) or ‘Mohammedan blue’ (huiqui qing), the mineral was imported from Iran and was likely a costly material that was difficult to obtain in vast quantities. Cobalt was first used to decorate Chinese ceramic wares in the 1st century AD, but the widespread production of blue and white porcelain only emerged in the second half of the 14th century. Blue and white porcelain was mostly produced for export to Vietnam, the Middle East and later Europe, where it was collected and highly valued by the wealthy.
The body of the teapot is modelled as petals of a lotus flower while the lid resembles a lotus seed pod. An important flower in Chinese culture, the lotus is the only plant included in the eight auspicious symbols of Buddhism, portraying purity of body and mind, which is denoted by the flowers rise above the muddy waters in which it grows.