In Chinese culture, the “gourd” is a symbol of blessings and protection, as well as magic, alchemy, and longevity in Taoist beliefs. This remarkable pair of double gourd jars with covers, known as hulu ping (gourd jar), showcases these symbolic meanings. The porcelain jars are adorned with stunning cobalt blue and copper-red underglaze decorations. They feature two bulbous shapes with a slimmer upper portion and a rounder lower portion. The decorations consist of four large hanging lobed lappets alternating with smaller round ones. Each lappet is outlined in blue and adorned with red scrolling peonies, while white foliage is reserved on a blue ground.
The Chinese referred to these hanging lappets as yunjian (cloud collars), which were collars with lobed clouds worn around the neck of embroidered robes during the Qing dynasty, particularly in women’s clothing. However, yunjian is not exclusive to the Han Chinese, the dominant ethnic group of China, as Tibetans also associate yunjian with Buddhism. The bottom of each bulb is bordered with four leaf-shaped medallions filled with the same pattern and topped with a stylised lotus. A band decorated with foliate scrolls connects the two bulbs.
These jars were privately commissioned by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) circa 1710 during the Kangxi period, the Qing Dynasty in China. The 17th and 18th centuries were the peak periods of Chinese export porcelain, captivating Western collectors, including royal families, with the exquisite beauty of Chinese porcelain. This pair of double gourd jars is a testament to the incredible skills of Chinese potters – particularly their large size was exceedingly difficult to execute, as well as the use of underglaze copper-red – which was notoriously unstable during firing. These jars are the ultimate testament to the elegant shapes, smooth surfaces, vibrant colours, and sophisticated compositions produced in the Jingdezhen kilns during the Kangxi period.