A large 19th-century export polychrome baluster jar finely painted in orange with black contours and gold accents. Beautifully decorated with two phoenixes perched on rocks amidst blooming peonies. The neck is painted with borders of ruyi. The ruyi heads are painted and formed in western-style art and taste. The base is unglazed. Lot 26 is a highlight of the October 9, 2021 Auction. View the October 9th auction here.
What is a Phoenix?
The sovereign of all birds, the Fenghuang (凤 凰) or in English ‘Phoenix’ is a bird from Chinese mythology. In Chinese art and literature, it serves as a metaphor for peace, longevity, and virtue. In the Classics of Mountain and Sea (Shan Hai Jing), an appearance of a phoenix was rare, but when it did appear it was seen as a great omen of peace and propriety. Their head representing virtue (de 德), wings justice (yi義), back politeness (li禮), stomach as honesty (xin信), and chest for humanity (ren 仁).
According to an ancient text, the bird appears with a chicken-like head profile, a snake neck, a swallow chin, a long fishtail, and a tortoiseshell back. In some alliterations, they have tiger skin and multi-colored feathered tails. They are depicted in art objects as early as the Six Dynasties Period (220-589 BC) or the Tang Dynasty (618-907 BC).
During the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368) phoenixes were often shown in pairs. Originally Feng was a male phoenix and Huang was a female phoenix, representing the union of yin and yang. Later, in the Ming Dynasty, the two became combined as ‘Fenghuang’ and identified as the symbol of the empress, so the phoenix came to represent femininity. She is commonly paired with dragons, which symbolizes the emperor. Together they symbolize the duality of the feminine and masculine, yin and yang. The design is common in wedding gifts and decorations.
Hachaisuka M. U. (1924) The Identification of the Chinese Phoenix. The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland.
Smiga G. M. (2016) The Phoenix and the Fenghuang: Mythic Birds of Blessing.