Teapot Decoration: Falangcai

Having developed a curiosity about the enamel decoration seen on some Chinese porcelain wares, I decided to do some research into the topic, and found myself discovering the world of falangcai.

The enamel decorations known as falangcai , literally meaning ‘foreign colours’ were most likely named as such due to the fact that the enamels used were originally imported from Europe, although during the Yongzheng period (1723-35) Chinese artisans found a way to produce the enamels themselves.  It is worth noting that the use of the term falangcai is not always consistent, with different experts using it to refer to different groups of enamel decoration. However, it seems that most uses of the term specifically refer to enamel decorations produced in the imperial workshops of the palace in the Forbidden City, in Beijing.

These two teapots are examples of white Chinese porcelain decorated with enamel designs. Although the porcelain body of this first teapot was manufactured in Jingdezhen- a city in Jiangxi province famous for its production of ceramics, and particularly porcelain- the teapot would have been transported to Beijing where the decoration was then applied by enamel artists employed by the palace workshop.

The designs on the first teapot consist of various flora, including bamboo, narcissus, longevity fungus, and some sort of prunus (possibly cherry trees). These are accompanied by a Song poem that reads: ‘Several branches of green bamboo hang across; and overnight surround the vermillion railings.’* This combination of pictorial decoration with calligraphic text is commonly seen on porcelain ware in the Qianlong period (1736-1795) of the Qing dynasty, in which this teapot was manufactured.

Falangcai teapot with geese, from the British Museum (photo by Elise Nuding, all rights reserved)
Falangcai teapot with geese, from the British Museum (photo by Elise Nuding, all rights reserved)

The second teapot, also from the Qianlong period, is decorated with geese by the water. Rather charmingly, two geese are also to be found on the underside of the lid! The accompanying poem reads: ‘Full autumn, together [the birds] drink and peck by rivers and lakes; in the wind [you hear] the clamour of rushes and reeds [the birds are flying around and crying]’*. Like the first teapot, the porcelain body of this one was also manufactured in Jingdezhen and then decorated in the workshops in Beijing.

Falangcai teapot with flowers, from the British Museum (photo by Elise Nuding, all rights reserved)
Falangcai teapot with flowers, from the British Museum (photo by Elise Nuding, all rights reserved)

Despite the name falangcai being a slightly confusing and inconsistent technical term, the decorations that these coloured enamels were used to create are definitely worth a look.

*Translations are those provided in the British Museum’s object labels.

See more of Elise Nuding’s articles here.

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