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A Chinese Romance

Guest - Monday February 22, 2016 10:58
Chinese porcelain teapot, early eighteenth century, decorated in blue and white with a scene from The Romance of the West Chamber, at Erddig, NT 1145624. ©National Trust/Susanne Gronnow

Chinese porcelain teapot, early eighteenth century, decorated in blue and white with a scene from The Romance of the West Chamber, at Erddig, NT 1145624. ©National Trust/Susanne Gronnow

Emlie de Bruijn, Registrar at the National Trust, is a heritage professional who uncovers many of the hidden gems found throughout the vast Trust collection. He documents and posts his latest findings through his blog National Trust Treasure Hunt. Emile has agreed to let Royal Oak share his posts here, on AngloFiles for you, our members. Sign up for Emile’s emails on his blog to stay connected with the latest findings in the National Trust’s collection.

From Emile’s post “A Chinese Romance”

One of a pair of Chinese porcelain baluster-shaped vases, Kangxi period (1662-1722), decorated in blue and white with scenes from The Romance of the West Chamber, at Lyme Park, NT 499329.1. ©National Trust/Robert Thrift

One of a pair of Chinese porcelain baluster-shaped vases, Kangxi period (1662-1722), decorated in blue and white with scenes from The Romance of the West Chamber, at Lyme Park, NT 499329.1. ©National Trust/Robert Thrift

I recently supplied a little feature on the theme of ‘romance’ in our collections for the Spring 2016 issue of the National Trust Magazine. My colleague Gabriella de la Rosa has now added a version of this feature to the collections pages of the National Trust’s website.

One of the objects in this feature is a Chinese blue and white porcelain teapot at Erddig. It is decorated with a scene from a famous Chinese play,The Romance of the West Chamber, written by the Yuan-dynasty playwright Wang Shifu.

The Romance of the West Chamber is the story of Zhang Sheng, a poor young scholar, and Cui Yingying, the daughter of the Prime Minister, who fall in love without their families’ approval. The scene on the Erddig teapot shows Yingying in a garden at night waiting to meet her lover.

The plot is a kind of Chinese Romeo and Juliet, except that it ends happily, with Zhang Sheng doing well in the civil service examinations, rising to high office, and being able to marry his sweetheart.

Chinese porcelain bowl with everted rim, Kangxi period (1662-1722), decorated in blue and white with scenes from The Romance of the West Chamber, at Polesden Lacey, NT 1245606, ©National Trust/Andrew Fetherston

Chinese porcelain bowl with everted rim, Kangxi period (1662-1722), decorated in blue and white with scenes from The Romance of the West Chamber, at Polesden Lacey, NT 1245606, ©National Trust/Andrew Fetherston

All this would have been lost to eighteenth-century British tea drinkers and porcelain collectors. It was only in the 1980s, with Craig Clunas’s article on the West Chamber as a decorative theme on Chinese porcelain (see this bibliography under 1982), that these scenes began to be properly understood in the west.

Gabriella has assembled a few more Chinese ceramics with ‘West Chamber’ imagery in our collections.

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