Tea bowl and saucer

DATE: 1723-1735 (made)
PLACE: China (made)
MATERIALS AND TECHNIQUES: Porcelain painted in overglaze enamels

This tea bowl is modelled and painted to resemble a lotus blossom, a species of the water-lily family. In Chinese culture, the lotus is thought to represent feminine beauty and, as the flower rises from the muddy waters in which it grows, it is also considered to be a symbol of purity and truth. Lotus blossoms are often depicted as Buddha’s throne and it is the only plant included in the eight auspicious symbols of Buddhism.

The saucer is painted to complement the bowl, depicting a figure on the side of a water lily pond with an attendant bringing tea to the water’s edge. Two mandarin ducks, a symbol of love and devotion, are depicted flying overhead. Such scenes, portraying an idyllic view of life in China, were popular with Western buyers where this type of decoration was deemed exotic and therefore highly fashionable. Pieces moulded in the form of lotus and chrysanthemums were popular in the mid-18th century, though the inclusion of figures in the decoration of these pieces is considered rare.