Exploring Floral Art and Floriculture Through Chinese Flower Vessels

Floriculture, as a lifestyle art, has endured since ancient times. People used various materials to make vessels for the cultivation of flowers. As time passed by, the beautiful flowers fade, but the containers have remained to be appreciated by future generations.

Southern Branch of the National Palace Museum presents an exhibition entitled "Floral Art for Pleasure" to shed light on the pleasure of floriculture and appreciation of flower containers by offering.

The Southern Branch of the National Palace Museum is located at Taibao City

Between the 16th and 19th centuries, floriculture and the appreciation of floral containers flourished in China. During this time, archaic vessels were greatly used as floral containers by flower lovers because they evoked classical memories of the ancestors. Artisans also created original floral containers that catered to elegant, fashionable or luxurious tastes, revealing an alternative thinking among the literati. Especially in the Qing dynasty, flowers have always been embedded with wealth and auspicious connotations, and the selection of matching floral containers not only enhanced those but made a space full of delight.

The exhibition is divided into four themes – "Antiquities: Classical Simplicity," "Novelties: Trendy Brilliance," " Charms: Embodiment of Good fortune," and " Heirlooms: Lifestyle of Qur Grannies."

Mallet-Shaped Vase Ru Ware, Celadon. Late 11th-early 12th centuries

Mallet-Shaped Vase Ru Ware, Celadon. Late 11th-early 12th centuries

During the Ming and Qing dynasties, antique vessels were used as flower containers as people regarded the bronzes and jade objects from the Xia, Shang and Zhou dynasties, ceramics from the 16th century and before, as well as flower vessels in ancient prototypes were unembellished, which refine one’s temperament. Some were originally ritual objects or utensils for daily use. Craftsmen and hence added inner liner, customized wooden stands, or reinforced the base for use as flower vessels.

Cong Vase (incl. wooden stand and metal inner liner) Jade. Shierqiao Culture (circa 1250-650BC), Shang-Zhou dynasties

The Cong vase jade from Shierqiao culture (circa 1250-650 BC) was used as a ritual object. A metal inner liner with cloisonné lid was added during the Qianlong period which turned this cong into a vase. Such modification can also be seen in a zun vase in the shape of an ox from the Mid Warring States Period (4th-3rd centuries BC). During the Shang and Zhou dynasties this animal-shaped zun would have been a ceremonial wine container, with a lid on the back to fill it. Animal-shaped flower vessels appeared during the Yuan dynasty and entered common use during the Ming and Qing dynasties.

Zun Vase in the Shape of an Ox (incl. metal inner liner). Mid Warring States Period (4th-3rd Centuries BC)

“Novelties: Trendy Brilliance” features a selection of flower vessels that once handled by the Qianlong emperor, revealing the emperor’s passion to connect with the ancients with the present through artworks. The Qianlong Emperor paid great attention on physical characteristics and the meaning of signatures of each artwork.

Conjoined vase with Indian lotus motifs Jingdezhan ware, cobalt blue glaze with gilt design. Qianlong reign (1736-1795), Qing dynasty

For example, a conjoined vase with Indian lotus motifs Jingdezhen ware is reminisicent of baroque style porcelain. Combing Eastern and and Western styles, the vase is decorated with lotus motifs on the body, with ruyi cloud and banana leaf motifs round the base.

Pot with Rivet Design Jun Ware, Azure and lilac Glaze. 15th Century

Pot with Rivet Design Jun Ware, Azure and lilac Glaze. 15th Century

Gourd-shaped Vase with Fu Lu Shou motifs Jingdezhen ware, Qianlong reign (1736-1795)

The pursuit of wealth and good fortune is a common aspiration of human beings. Flower vessels with auspicious meanings were chosen during festive seasons, matching with flowers of metaphorical significance symbolizing longevity, fertility and good fortune. In this respect, flower vessels resembling auspicious objects such as pomegranates, peach branches, bird-and-animal motifs as well as artificial bonsai trees made of precious metals and stones were highly regarded by contemporaries.

Flower Holder in the Shape of Cabbage Jadeite, 18th-19th Centuries

“Charms: Embodiment of Good Fortune” showcases flower vessels with auspicious meanings. A gourd-shaped vase with fu lu shou motifs is gilded with red bats holding red ribbons in their mouths. The bat (fu) is a homophone for happiness, ribbon (shou) for longevity and the calabash for good fortune. The theme represents continuous happiness and longevity.

Jintongchen ware, Clay planter with calligraphy by Chang Dai-ch'ien. Taiwan before 1981

The last part of the exhibition, “Heirlooms: Lifestyle of Our Grannies”, presents flower vessels of unique Taiwanese taste. Japanese-style flower vessels and aesthetics spread with the introduction of Ikebana to Taiwan during the Japanese reign. Taiwan’s floral art blended the two traditions of China and Japan and created something of their own distinctive style.

Floral Art for Pleasure – Appreciation of Flower Vessels and Lifestyle

Exhibition dates: 3 November 2018 – 1 May 2019
Venue: Southern Branch of the National Palace Museum
Address: No.888, Gugong Blvd., Taibao City, Chiayi County,61248, Taiwan R.O.C
Visitors with disability card and one accompanying person|Free
Children under school age|Free
Enquiry: +886 5 362 0777