Floral Art for Pleasure — Appreciation of Flower Vessels and Lifestyle

By National Palace Museum

Flowers always bring elegance and pleasure to our life, they are also a medium through which enthusiasts can express their feelings. Floral arts have taken an important role in Chinese aesthetic life since the Ming period in the 15th century. The beautiful flowers have faded though, the containers have remained and can be appreciated by future generations.

Floral Art for Pleasure – Appreciation of Flower Vessels and Lifestyle (exhibits)National Palace Museum

Historically, vessels were chosen for their elegance and a way for literati to embody their personal ideals and way of life. They chose vessels for their style, to present their taste and preference for auspicious symbols. This in turn influenced contemporary taste. The modern floral art flourishes today in Taiwan and some of the pieces shown here date from within living memory.

Display in galleryNational Palace Museum

Antiquities: Classical Simplicity

The Ming and Qing dynasties (16th to 20th century), saw a quest for antiquities among the literati. They believed that ancient bronzes, jade objects, ceramics, or vessels in ancient unembellished styles, embodied a simple character and echoed tranquility. In this regard, antique vessels were preferred choice for flower containers.

Cong tube (incl. metal inner liner & wooden stand) (ca. 2500-2200 BCE)National Palace Museum

The jade cong vessel was originally a ritual vessel for worshiping the earth. The Qianlong Emperor (r. 1735-1796) commissioned a cloisonné inner liner and a red sandalwood stand for this vessel. He had it arranged with flowers and placed on his desk. He believed it cultivated a peaceful mind.

Bracelet-shaped cong (incl. metal inner liner) (ca. 3200-2000 BCE)National Palace Museum

When the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1735-1796), received an archaic jade bracelet he asked the imperial workshop to design a five-hole cloisonné lid inner liner with alternating blue, green, and white colors. When reading, the emperor looked at this vase, arranged with flowers, and it evoked thoughts of antiquity and reminiscences of the distant past.

Mallet-shaped vase with celadon glaze, Ru ware (Late 11th-early 12th century)National Palace Museum

The shape of this mallet-shaped vase has its origin in glass vases for holding rose water from West Asia. The ones produced at the Ru kilns in Henan province in the Song dynasty (11th-12th century) have elegant and magnificent shapes and glazes.

Mallet-shaped vase with celadon glaze, Ru ware (Late 11th-early 12th century)National Palace Museum

They were always the first choice of the imperial families for their flower arrangements. These vases recapture their classic and elegant spirit.

Hu vessel with triangular pattern (incl. metal inner liner) (16th -18th centuries)National Palace Museum

During the Ming and Qing dynasties (14th to 19th centuries), the literati believed that bronze vessels with metal inlays symbolized the unity of the antiquated and the novel.

Hundred Flowers of Prosperity Together (16th -18th centuries)National Palace Museum

The hanging scroll depicts a bronze vase with lotus blossom, sweet flag and other flowers.

Since lotus pods have hundreds of seeds, this flower arrangement additionally expressed a hope for numerous progeny.

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Novelties: Trendy Brilliance

Vases with new and extraordinary forms, colors and motifs were the first choice of florists in the Ming and Qing dynasty (14th to 20th centuries) wishing to create a fashionable atmosphere. This trend was not only a sign of one’s unique taste and unquenched curiosity, but was also believed to cultivate a lively spirit.

Elegant Pursuits of the Literati “The Eighteen Scholars” (detail) by AnonymousNational Palace Museum

This Jun planter and pot set was made in the 15th century. They were custom-made for the Ming imperial family in order to plant sweet flag.

Inverted bell-shaped planter and pot, azure and grape-purple glazes Jun ware (15th century)National Palace Museum

They are coated with azure and sky-blue glaze.

Inverted bell-shaped planter and pot, azure and grape-purple glazes Jun ware (15th century)National Palace Museum

The vibrant glaze differs from the simple monochrome taste in vases of the Song and Yuan dynasties (960-1368).

Conjoined vase Jingdezhen ware, tea dust-green glaze (1736-1795)National Palace Museum

In the 17th-century the Dutch royal family commissioned multi-tube tulip vases. In 18th century Qing China there were mass producing of multi-spout vases.

This innovative and creative conjoined vase is arranged with peacock feathers to expresses the wish for, “Splendid feathers on the head.”

Dog-shaped planter Shiwan ware, jun glaze (1644-1911)National Palace Museum

This planter has the form of a dog with a full forehead, pug nose, and wide mouth.

Dog-shaped planter Shiwan ware, jun glaze (1644-1911)National Palace Museum

On its back is a four-lobed opening. Its shape is innovative.

Leisurely Pursuits of the Zither and Calligraphy Attributed to Liu Songnian (fl. 1173-1224), Song dyansty (1173-1224)National Palace Museum

In the late Ming to early Qing dynasty (16th to 18th century) growing dwarf sedge in animal-shaped flowerpots was a trend to present the contemporaries’ unique and creative philosophy of life.

Display in galleryNational Palace Museum

Charms: Embodiment of Good Fortune

The pursuit of wealth and good fortune is a common aspiration of human beings. The best way to wish for longevity, fertility and good fortune is to plant flowers with fortunate symbols in those flower vessels with auspicious meanings.

Gourd-shaped vase with fu lu shou motifs (1736-1795)National Palace Museum

The double gourd (hulu) is a homophone for prosperity (fu) and status (lu).

This orange-red gourd-shaped vase depicts scrolling twigs of melons, and bats (fu, prosperity) each holding a ribbon with swastika. Around its waist is tied a ribbon (shou, longevity). The whole setting presents a prosperous scene of “a myriad ages never ending.”

Octagonal lacquered box with décor of appreciating antiquities (18th -19th century)National Palace Museum

At Chinese New Year, these vases are filled with spring plum and heavenly bamboo, which symbolize the arrival of spring and longevity, expressing a hope for happiness and long life.

Pomegranate-shaped vase with fu and shou motifs Jingdezhen ware, white glaze (1736-1795)National Palace Museum

This small and exquisite white vase is in the shape of a pomegranate. The fruit represents prodigious offspring.

Dong Gao Album leaf, ink and color on paper (1644-1911)National Palace Museum

This vase arranged with orchids, which are associated with virtuous nobleman expressed a wish for virtuous future generations.

Flower holder in the shape of a magnolia (Late 18th century)National Palace Museum

Creamy and milky in color, this Hetian jade is carved in the shape of a graceful and charming magnolia blossom. The flower is a sign of spring.

A Setting of Joy and Prosperity (1644-1911)National Palace Museum

This jade vessel holding a flower with a light fragrance in a hall during the Lunar New Year would have increased the spring atmosphere.

Artificial rhodea plant bonsai in a lacquer planter (incl. wooden stand)National Palace Museum

The splendid red lacquer planter holds artificial rohdeas with red berries carved from black jade and coral.

The Qing court (1636-1911) especially adored this type of planter for growing rohdea. Homonyms express the idea of the “Qing empire forever”, undoubtably a wish of the royal family.

Planter with fu gui ji xiang décor Jingdezhen ware, famille-rose enamels (19th century) by AnonymousNational Palace Museum

This 19th century yellow planter is decorated with the four characters, fu, gui, ji, and xiang (happiness, wealth, auspiciousness, and peace) which are separated by sets of bats (fu, happiness) holding ribbon (shou, longevity) motifs. The four characters are filled with peonies and chrysanthemum representing fortune. What flower would you cultivate in this auspicious pot?

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Heirlooms: Lifestyle of Our Grandparents

With immigration from China and Japan, Taiwan’s floral culture blended the two traditions. At the same time, growing local workshops also began the production of vases, to which they added some unique Taiwanese touch.

If you have kept any of these old vases at home, why not take them out and arrange some blooms in them to reconnect with the elegant lifestyle of our grandparent’s generation?

Square planter, Guanghong, blue glaze with white slip decorationNational Palace Museum

From the Qing dynasty to the early 20th century, most of the vases in Taiwan were imported from Fujian and Guangdong provinces of China. This piece was probably used in Taiwan during this period. It was likely produced by the Zhengxin Factory at the Shiwan kilns, Guangdong, and dates to the same period as the Yuhua Zhengji Co. (1915-1925). Products from this factory were exported throughout Southeast Asia.

Planter painted with blooming plants (1901/2000)National Palace Museum

Many photographs of Taiwan remain from the Japanese Occupation Period. Arrangements or planters often appear in the background of portraits. Planters produced at the Seto kiln in Japan are often shown in these photographs. An old photograph from the collection of the National Museum of Taiwan History shows a planter similar to this one.

Display in galleryNational Palace Museum

The artist Chang Dai-chien (1899-1983) loved floriculture and had a deep influence on bonsai art in Taiwan. This piece is a rare extant planter with Chang’s signature. It is said that originally Chang cultivated red-hairy azaleas in this planter. The script shows that the splendid blossom was a gift of love for his wife, Ms. Hsu Wen-po.

Clay planter with calligraphy by Chang Dai-chien Jintongchen ware, Taiwan Before 1981 Chang Dai-ch’ien Memorial Residence (ca. 1982)National Palace Museum

The seal on the back of the planter “Dafeng Tang” refers to the studio which Chang and his older brother, Chang Shan-tzu, shared. The seal on the bottom is from the maker, the Jingtongcheng kiln in Gongguan, Miaoli, which was known for producing flower planters at the time.

Tripot flower basin (1970s-1980s)National Palace Museum

This basin can be seen in a photo of the artist Chang Dai-chien (1899-1983), elegantly placed in the living room of his home the Abode of Maya and planted with several narcissi. Next to the basin is an urn with a tall plum blossom. The scene conveys a secluded and refined atmosphere. The basin is coated with celadon glaze and is inscribed with the mark of “Dafeng Tang” in seal script near the rim on the interior.

Credits: Story

This presentation is from "Floral Art for Pleasure — Appreciation of Flower Vessels and Lifestyle", an exhibition organized by the National Palace Museum (November 3, 2018–May 1, 2019). The exhibition is curated by Chen Yuh-shiow and Lin Jung-i.

© 2020 National Palace Museum

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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