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A Little Treasure Chest 2

In China, which was the origin of bonsai art a few thousand years ago, ritual vessels and water containers were the first containers in which the small trees collected in the mountains were planted. Since these containers didn't have drainage holes, they were later drilled into the bottoms of the pots. We don't know when potters were consigned to build bonsai pots for the first time. Very old Chinese pots indicate that there was a gradual change from ritual vessel to bonsai pots. Both the bonsai and the pot were originally objects of religious cult. Unfortunately many exquisite pots were destroyed in the turmoil of the cultural revolution. The few pots that still exist are precious and therefore no longer in use as planting containers. As witnesses of the past they can only be found in museums or private collections.

You would have to travel to Japan, China or Taiwan in order to be able to enjoy viewing and studying such old bonsai pots. In Europe there are only three or four places where they are on display. In most cases, these are private collections; there are hardly any pots to be found in the "Asian Art" sections of public museums.

This web site wants to offer an alternative, as do some of the available bonsai journals. Here you can see pots that would otherwise be inaccessible. The knowledge and the study of antique pots is essential for the discriminating bonsai enthusiast, since it provides you with a deeper understanding of the relationship between pot and bonsai.

Pots To Dream Of


Size: 18,5 cm x 18,5 cm x 14,5 cm  Age: 80 – 100 years
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Size: 16 cm x 16 cm x 18 cm  Age: 80 – 100 years

This pot is a testimonial from old times. I just call it “Pot of the four Seasons”. The queen of flowers is pictured here, the peony (Chinese: Mu-tan). It is the flower symbol for spring (first photograph, on the left). Poets have rendered homage to it and its beauty stands for utmost eroticism. On this picture it is not shown together with other plants. This means that in this case, it stands only for the season of spring. When paired with other plants, the symbolism could be entirely different.
The following plant is the lotus (second photograph, on the left). Lotus is one of the eight buddhist treasures. It stands for summer and its combinations with other plants have countless meanings. Flowers, buds and seed heads are full of signs and symbols and give the lotus a special, poetic eroticism.
The chrysanthemum (Chinese: Chue, second photograph, on the right) is the flower of autumn, it symbolizes long life. Also here the constellations with other natural symbols have countless meanings.
The plum (Chinese: Mei, first photograph, on the right) or the plum blossom twig is a botanical symbol for winter. Often, just like on this pot, it is depicted in combination with bamboo and pine. They are the three stalwarts in the cold season. The plum flower also has erotic meanings in combination with other symbols.
Even the butterflies on each of the pictures have erotic meaning, they represent a man in love dancing sensually between the open flowers (symbolizing women).

When looking at such pots I wistfully think about the poverty of our modern times, in which containers like these are just kitschy gadgets in the eyes of many people.
But for those who can read them, they are an artistic legacy. They remind us that sensuality is a part of being human and that only those who nourish it can fully develop it.
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A beautiful ancient pot, for dreaming ...


Size: 30 cm x 20 cm x 10 cm  Age: about 100 years
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Size: 35 cm x 22 cm x 9 cm  Age: 80 – 100 years

The paintings on this pot also are packed with symbols and meanings. In European literature there is not much information about their symbolism, so it is not easy to interpret all the illustrations and to understand and decrypt their meanings.
But I would imagine that every stone, tree, bird or ox, every fisher and straw hut has a special meaning.


Here we see a river landscape in spring, integrated harmoniously with the shallow shape of the pot.
The right side of the pot shows an oxherd pulling his ox on a rope (maybe a water ox, which is typical for south China). It may well be that this detail stands for one of the six “Ox Herding” pictures. They indicate the highest goal in religious life (see also “A Flower does not talk”, Zenkai Shibayama, Kyoto 1966, “Zen Oxherding Pictures”, Zenkai Shibayama, Kyoto 1967).

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All pots presented are from the collection of Paul Lesniewicz.


Text and photographs: Peter Krebs

Translation: Heike van Gunst