Dish with Europeans Playing Musical Instruments
Qing dynasty, Kangxi period (c. 1683–1700)
Blue and white porcelain
Diameter: 34.3 cm (13 1/2 in.)
Bequest of Henry C. Schwab, 1941.787
The image of the musicians in the center of this dish is based on a print of a costume party that was designed by French engravers. Here, a woman and two men play instruments around a table. The woman is seated and plays a dulcimer. She wears a low-cut dress with long, billowing sleeves and a long skirt, and her hair is piled on top of her head with combs. The man in the center of the scene plays a flute. He sports long, curly hair and wears a coat, a shirt with ruffled sleeves, and an ascot. The man to his left is similarly dressed and plays a lute. Eight landscapes rim the dish, each outlined and separate yet creating a continuous scene. There is a sense of perspective and depth in these scenes, created by receding mountains and trees in the background, figures in boats or houses in the middle ground, and water or rocks in the foreground. The panels of Chinese landscapes that encircle these highly romanticized figures create an imaginary and multicultural composition that is characteristic of many ceramics that were made in China for export. Executed in a European style known as Chinoiserie, this dish was likely intended for a collector in France, Italy, or Holland.
This vessel exhibits a decorative technique that is generally known as “underglaze blue.” The blank porcelain surface was first painted with an ink-like solution of cobalt pigment, which turned a rich, dark blue after glazing and firing. Blue-and-white porcelain was developed in China as early as the 14th century. By the beginning of the 17th century, Chinese blue-and-white porcelain was exported directly to Europe and subsequently inspired different styles of ceramic wares throughout Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and the Americas.