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The "Who is who" of a Pot

This Fortunella hindsii (Kumquat) was presented on the gallery pages of Bonsai Art, vol. 16.

The tree is potted in an antique Chinese pot and produces edible fruit.

The focus here is on the tree, and on its fruit. On closer inspection you will become aware of the pot, the housing for the tree.

Finally there's the fine painting on the pot, and this is where it really gets interesting for me.


A first reaction could be "Oh, what a nice Chinese painting!". However there's something not quite right with it, since there's definitely a Japanese style in this painting.

The motif is quite special too. There are eight figures in this scene; four of them seem to be Asian, but the other four have a more European look. The Asian people depicted are probably Chinese, the Westerners could be Portuguese Jesuits.

It is hard to see if there's a present handed over (or who hands it to whom), or if it's more of an official reception.

In 1516, the Portuguese, who at that time were Europe's largest colonial power, established the first Chinese trading post in the Province of Macao. From there they started shipping, among other goods, large quantities of Chinese porcelain to Europe. Within China itself, the Portuguese didn't have any cultural influence at that time.

But this kind of trade lead to some Chinese potters specializing on producing Porcelain for the European market and its taste. This type of Porcelain often shows European motifs along with Chinese ornaments.

In 1543, the Portuguese landed in Japan for the first time - on the Island of Tanegashima. From here they started to establish a trade between China and Japan.

Given this background, the origin of this pot still remains a mystery to me. The type of ceramics and the painting strongly hint towards a Japanese origin. Or perhaps it was a Chinese artist copying a Japanese pot and its style of painting?


Photographs: BONSAI ART

Text: Peter Krebs

Translation: Stefan Ulrich


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