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A Little Treasure Chest 6

Kun-tsan, a famous Zen painter, said: “Who wants to fathom the essence of painting must climb the mountains and follow the rivers back to their sources, only then he can put his ideas into practice.”
Bonsai pottery is more popular than ever in Germany, but very often people are too strict about the aesthetics of a quality bonsai pot.
Personally, I think that every potter, be it hobbyist or professional, can have or can find their niche. Also here, variety is the spice of life. It can be very rewarding to study old bonsai pots, their technique, shape and decoration. Especially the old Chinese and Japanese techniques and paintings on pots for bonsai or penjing are life-affirming and sensual.
The diversity of motifs on Asian pots has its source in religion and popular belief. The real as well as the imaginary world are expressed with signs and symbols. Luck, prosperity and success should be bestowed on the owner of a pot painted with these symbols. The depictions of the seasons, of plants and animals were a tribute to nature. The following old pots from China are such testimonials from old times. 

Size: 24 cm diameter, 27 cm height

All around this beautiful pot there is a poem or verse from a song.


Size: 19 cm x 19 cm x 14 cm

With its motifs and colours, this small pot is a masterpiece. Bird of paradise, flowers, fruit, leaves and stones are painted onto thick white porcelain glaze using a full colour range.

With its soft overglaze painting, it's an epitome of utilitarian pottery that is beautiful and life-affirming.


This pot impresses with the same kind of rich colouring. The painting is executed with remarkable accuracy. It shows very subtle colour gradients, which are signs of the highest artistic ability. The motif of the pot is an example of the vividness of Chinese metaphorical imagery.
The pair of ducks in the middle stands for the highest marital happiness. In China this has a high cultural significance.
The lotus also means marital happiness and is pictured here in various colours and shapes. It also stands for eroticism. Lotus has two names, LIEN or HO-LIEN, which is also the word for to mate or LIEN for to love. A lotus flower with leaves and bud again means total alliance. This imagery is full of meanings and shows us how sensual a plant pot can be.


The age of this pot is hard to determine; I would estimate it at 80 – 100 years. Especially interesting is the colourful overglaze painting, and the barely visible faded golden rim.
Usually the green body of the pot gets a first firing at about 1300°C. Then the glaze painting is burned at about 800° - 1000°C. Finally the gold is applied at about 700° - 800°C. This means three firing processes.
I assume that on this pot the overglaze painting and the gold were fired in one pass at 700° - 800°C in order to save time and money.
Gold and glaze are both quite faded and worn out, an indication of low temperature firing.

The pot was probably in frequent use, and daily cleaning gave it it today's patina. The painting is very appealing, just look at the small bonsai on a stone in the middle of this photograph!


All pots shown here are from the collection of Paul Lesniewicz.

Text and photographs: Peter Krebs
Translation: Heike van Gunst