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Painted Enamel on Ceramics – The Encounter of Dutch and Chinese Pottery

The blue-and-white ceramic was long sought and loved worldwide, particularly since the introduction of Chinese blue-and-white porcelain in Europe in the fifteenth century. The arrival of Chinese porcelain triggered European potters to produce imitations of this unique Chinese product since the seventeenth century. In Delft, the imitation process first occurred in about 1620-1630 when a few traditional majolica manufacturers began to experiment with some technical innovations to come close to the effect of Chinese blue-and-white porcelain. Delft potters started to produce polychrome Delftware when the colorful Japanese porcelain received great popularity on the Dutch market. After 400 years of unsettling fate, the iconic Delft Blue is now regarded as a Dutch national symbol. In contrast, this article is not about the beloved blue-and-white ceramics but focuses on the polychrome enameled wares. Christiaan Jörg notes the shift in Dutch interiors from the majority of the simple underglaze blue wares in the beginning of the seventeenth century to the equally abundant amount of polychrome wares with overglaze enamels in various colors in the eighteenth century (Jörg 2014, 129). The introduction of Shunzhi (1644-1661) polychrome porcelain was essential as it created an awareness that colored porcelain was also made in China (Jörg 2014, 139). One of the main factors that Jörg identifies in such a change of taste was the technical innovations in China (ibid). However, the innovations cannot be done without the contributions from the Low Countries or Europe in a broader sense. Moreover, in a time when there were no trains and planes and traveling from Europe to China took about or at least a year, exchanges and communications were extremely difficult. The Jesuit Fathers and VOC (Dutch East India Company) became the mediators between Europe and China.

It is known that Delftware was derived from the previous majolica production and inspired by Chinese porcelain. This article intends to explain the new category of painted enamel porcelain that appeared during the late Kangxi reign (1661-1722) and trace the possible connection between the Delft faience industry and the invention. These new painted enamel wares were made to obtain sophisticated decorations resembling paintings (Colomban et al. 10159). Particularly, I will first clarify the different, complex Chinese and European terms on various types of Chinese polychrome porcelain. Then, I will focus on how the idea of making such new wares was developed and realized with contributions from Jesuit Fathers and VOC as mediators. Lastly, I will demonstrate the technical innovations of the enamel wares and their association with Delft potters.


It is essential first to distinguish a variety of Chinese and European terms of enameled porcelain. For those familiar with polychrome porcelain, terms such as famille verte and famille rose are probably not strange to the ears. The two terms were first used by the French art historian Albert Jacquemart in 1862 to denote the enameled porcelain of the Qing dynasty. Scholars tend to agree on famille verte referring to the Chinese wucai or yincai, while famille rose can denote fencai, ruancai, yangcai or falangcai(Kerr 106).[1]  Rather than the number of enamels applied, wu (five) refers to the complete or full range of colors (Jörg 139), which appeared to merge during the Ming Chenghua reign (1465-1487) in Jingdezhen (Colomban et al. 2017b, 2). Wucai was first fired with underglaze blue as outlines, then after cooling down, painted with various colors inside the underglaze blue lines, and fired for the second time. When the Qing dynasty took over China, the method of making Ming wucai at Jingdezhen imperial kilns continued to be deployed.

Painted enamel wares in China were developed during the later years of the Kangxi reign. Based on the material of the body, these wares are divided into 4 types, painted enamel on metal wares, painted enamel on glasswork, painted enamel on Yixing ware, and painted enamel on porcelain. Among the 4 types, falangcai, an entirely new category of polychrome porcelain, was successfully invented based on a new method in contrast to the more traditional wucai. Falang is most likely the homonymous translation of the word “France” in the Chinese language at that time (Colomban et al. 2017b, 3). Falangcai belongs to a rare group of imperial enameled porcelain, which was only made in the reigns of Kangxi, Yongzheng (1722-1735), and Qianlong (1735-1796). The emperors gathered the best craftsmen for each step and closely oversaw the entire making process. Many exquisite pieces were painted by renown painters together with poems written by famous calligraphers. Some were even designed by the emperors themselves. The body of falangcaicame from the undecorated porcelain with the best possible quality made in Jingdezhen or from the Ming undecorated imperial porcelain succeeded by the Qing court (see Fig. 1). It was then decorated, painted, and fired at the imperial workshop in the Forbidden City. There were only about 400 pieces of falangcai and the majority is now housed in the collection of the National Palace Museum in Taipei; these falangcai were exclusively for imperial use and were unknown by the public until the audit of the Forbidden City in 1925; as a result, earlier when Western scholars researched enameled porcelain based on Chinese export porcelain, they did not entirely recognize falangcai and some even denied the existence of enameled porcelain during the Kangxi period (Wang 125). Because of the frequent exchange of personnel, experience, technique, and materials between the imperial workshop in Beijing and the imperial kiln in Jingdezhen, the latter soon was able to produce porcelain characterized by a red to rose enamel in the new falangcai method. This is what we know as famille rose.

Fig. 1 Qing Yongzheng falangcai bowl with Ming Yongle (1402-1424) Porcelain Body © The Palace Museum

For the sake of clarity, this article adopted the nomenclature on the basis of Wang’s research in 2012. Fig. 2 shows the division of Qing enameled porcelain with modification of Wang’s classification. Under the umbrella term of Qing enameled porcelain: wucai or famille verte was made during Kangxi’s reign in Jingdezhen imperial and popular kilns, using the traditional techniques from Ming wucai with a combination of underglaze blue and overglaze colored decors; falangcai was invented in the late Kangxi reign and further perfected during the Yongzheng period and was decorated in the imperial workshop under the close supervision of Kangxi, Yongzheng, and Qianlong themselves; imperial yangcai was produced in Jingdezhen imperial kilns, whereas fencai or famille rose was made in the popular kilns in Jingdezhen, with some exceptions from Guangdong (Wang 122).

Fig. 2 Nomenclature of Qing Enameled Porcelain during the Kangxi, Yongzheng, Qianlong Periods

The Chinese Emperors and the European Mediators 

On the basis of several historic documents from the imperial court and letters of the Jesuit Fathers in Beijing, Kangxi established the new project on painted enamel around 1693; until 1716, the experiment was much likely to be conducted by Chinese cloisonné makers and Jingdezhen imperial porcelain potters based on European painted enamel wares in the imperial collection (Shih 2013, 164-5). Moreover, during the experiment stage, Guangdong (Canton) officials sent craftsmen skilled in painted enamel to Beijing together with enamel wares and pigments that they imported from Europe or made by local artisans (Shih 2013, 166). So, where did Kangxi’s idea of making his own painted enamel wares come from? As mentioned above, falang is likely to be the homonymous translation of “France” (Colomban et al. 2017b, 3). This coincides with one of Shih’s speculations that Kangxi’s idea of makingfalangcai was most likely inspired by the painted enamel objects brought by a group of Jesuit Fathers that the French King Louis XIV sent in 1685 (Shih 2013, 154).[1] Already before the arrival in Beijing, Father Fontaney wrote in a letter to France on 25 August 1687 that more painted enamel wares should have been sent because of the great popularity here; however, those decorated with portraits of nude human bodies should be avoided, even of Jesus and Maria (Shih 2013, 157). Furthermore, according to Father Gerbillonm’s letter to France on 30 November 1691, Kangxi wanted watches, especially small enameled ones and was looking for “an artisan who knew the secret to make enamel well and to make glass”; in another letter on 11 December 1691, Gerbillonm asked Paris to send an artisan of enamel, glass, and crystal (Shih 2013, 155).

Another possible inspiration came from the VOC embassy led by Vincent Paats in 1686. According to the records, Kangxi received guns as gifts from Paats and indicated that China already had this kind and ordered an official, Dai Zi, to make 10 imitations to send back; the emperor continued that however, China did not have the “enamels” and asked whether Dai could figure out how to make it (Shih 2013, 157-8). It is unclear whether the guns were enameled or Paats brought some enamel wares for his own purposes that were not recorded in the company’s archive. The Chinese source did not specify the kind of “enamels” as well.  Interestingly, 580 glasses were given to Kangxi as gifts, which exceeded far beyond the previous embassies (Wills 251-3). This could possibly be a factor in establishing the imperial glass workshop several years later. The glass workshop was important to the making of falangcai because the pigments used for the imperial enamel workshop were made there (Shih 2013, 165).

Moreover, the VOC played a crucial part in importing European objects and knowledge to China before the arrival of Louis XIV’s Jesuit embassy (Shih 2013, 159). As stated above, before arriving in Beijing, Father Fontaney noticed the great popularity of painted enamel wares. Based on a pair of Jingdezhen wucai bowls made during the late seventeenth century imitating Limoges painted enamel (even the mark “I.L.”), Shih indicates that there must have been Limoges painted enamels circulating in China for several years already. Guangdong was the trading city that opened to Europe. Next to the official trade, many objects were bought in and out off the record. The two VOC embassies (1655-57 and 1687), as well as the official and unofficial trade conducted by VOC, were very much likely to be the main channel in which European glass and painted enamel objects along with the related knowledge reached China (Shih 2013, 159).

Regardless of either speculation, historic records demonstrate that Kangxi had more specific interests in European arts and science after the arrival of the Jesuits sent by Louis XIV (Shih 2013, 154). On 31 October 1696, Father Fontaney wrote that Kangxi was building a glass workshop and asked the Jesuits to take charge; German Father Kilian Stumpf volunteered himself (Shih 2013, 155). According to the description of Portuguese Father João Mourão, Father Stumpf understood the process of making glass and glaze pigments and taught the artisans how to build kilns (Shih 2013, 165). Fontaney further urged to send experienced glassmakers from La Verrerie Royale and once again a good enameller (Shih 2013, 155-6). In 1693, Kangxi decided to send Father Bouvet back to France in quest of recruiting knowledgeable Fathers, in particular those of expertise in science and enameling (Shih 2013, 156). Unfortunately, there was still no enameller among the Jesuits who arrived in China in 1698 led by Father Bouvet; but notably, they brought 3 experts from La Verrerie Royale, 8 glassmakers and a considerable number of glass objects (ibid).

The request and search for European enamel craftsmen continued during the years. One of the most quoted Jesuit letters regarding the introduction of painted enamel techniques is from Italian Father Matteo Ripa in March 1716: “His Majesty having become fascinated by our European enamel and by the new method of enamel painting, tried by every possible means to introduce the latter into his imperial workshops which he had set up for this purpose within the Palace, with the result that with the colors used there to paint porcelain and with several large pieces of enamel which he had had brought from Europe, it became possible to do something. In order also to have the European painters, he ordered me and Castiglione (arrived in Macao in 1715) to paint in enamels: yet each of us, considering the intolerable slavery that we would have to suffer … Thus we found ourselves freed from a galley-slave condition.” (Loehr 55). The letter indicates that up until 1716, the imperial workshop was able to make some enamel wares but perhaps the outcome was not always satisfying. Shih demonstrates several enamel pieces before and around 1716, of which the enameling was relatively thick, uneven, often with bubbles; moreover, pigments did not always fuse together very well (Shih 2011, 42). The letter sends another important message: Kangxi was still looking for an enameller.

Finally, in 1719, the enameller that Kangxi was eager to have, French Father Jean Baptiste Gravereau, arrived in Beijing but merely stayed for 3 years due to health issues (Shih 2013, 157). The letter of Father Joseph de Mailla on 26 October 1720 states that since the production of painted enamel wares at the imperial workshop around 1714-1715, the Chinese craftsmen made quite some progress; if Father Gravereau could have focused on making painted enamel, he would possibly become the teacher of these craftsmen; furthermore, Gravereau also commented that the pigments made in the imperial workshop were not always useable and therefore urged to send the materials and pigments listed as soon as possible; Kangxi acknowledged Gravereau’s painting skills but hoped that he could have known more enameling techniques (Shih 2013, 169; Wang 141). However, according to the imperial court record, Kangxi was not satisfied with Gravereau’s skills and thought that he could learn from the imperial workshop (ibid). Gravereau seemed to be preoccupied at the time and not be able to focus on making enamels during his short stay (perhaps due to his health). Kangxi was therefore not impressed with his enameling skills.

Several documents from the imperial court suggest that Kangxi was very confident about his painted enamel wares, especially in the last years of his reign; the emperor also directed his officials that there was no need to import European enamel wares and pigments (Shih 2011, 81). Nevertheless, the situation changed when Yongzheng succeeded the throne in 1722. Many Jesuit letters during the Yongzheng period reveal that the emperor was again eager to have some European craftsmen, pigments, and books of enameling (Shih 2011, 82). Compared to that in Kangxi’s time, more European enamel pigments were imported to the imperial workshop during Yongzheng’s reign (Shih 2011, 90).

In the late years of Yongzheng, requiring European enamel wares and pigments were no longer mentioned in the Jesuits letters; the imperial workshop was excellent at making exquisitely painted enamel wares at this stage (Shih 2011, 113). The techniques from the imperial workshop on making falangcai were brought back to Jingdezhen and Guangdong by the craftsmen and imperial officials, which led to the production of famille rose exported to Europe. In Kangxi and Yongzheng’s attempts to make painted enamel wares, the Jesuits Fathers and the VOC were the mediators that introduced enamel objects, pigments, knowledge, and technique to the imperial workshop. However, due to different agendas, the Jesuits Fathers at the imperial court and VOC did not trust each other. In addition to that, the reactions when the Jesuits encountered the VOC embassies in 1655 and 1665 in Beijing show that “Protestant interlopers” were not appreciated (Kaufmann 226). Similarly, during the visit of Paats in 1686, the Jesuits did not want VOC to become so firmly established in the China trade; they denigrated the Dutch but “could not go too far or be too obvious in their maneuvering since a small but significant part of their influence at court was the result of their reputation as reliable and reasonably impartial translators in dealings with the Dutch, the Portuguese, and the Russians” (Wills 164).

The Revolution of the Palette – Innovations of falangcai

The difference between Ming wucai and Kangxi famille verte is the emergence of overglaze blue; in contrast, the most significant change from famille verte to famille rose is the technical revolution of the palette, which makes more vivid overglaze colors possible (Shih 2012, 23-4). The wider range of colors is due to the emergence of opaque white from lead-arsenate, opaque yellow from Naples Yellow, and red from colloidal gold (Nigel 242). Combined with the existing colors, these enamels can make overglaze decorations more like paintings on canvas. Enameling initially refers to the craft of melting colored glass on a metal surface; different techniques include but are not limited to champlevé (or repoussé), cloisonné, and painted enamel (Wang 117). The craft of enameling is believed to be introduced to China in the fourteenth century via the Silk Road (Colomban et al. 2020, 916). During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, Islamic glassmakers developed the craft of glass enameling in Syria and Egypt (Colomban and Kirmizi 133). Limoges became the center of enameled metalwork and Venice was that of enameled glasswork during the Renaissance period.

The revolution of the palette refers to a series of changes and innovations that led to the manufacture of the painted enamel on porcelain, which mainly include the preparation of enamel pigments, new glaze, new oily medium, the restructure of the administrations of Jingdezhen imperial kilns. Naturally, these changes cannot be achieved without contributions from Europe. This section will focus on 3 aspects, namely the pigments preparation, colloidal gold, and the muffle kiln. Meanwhile, I will explore how these innovations were directly or indirectly influenced and inspired by The Netherlands and Europe.

Pigments Preparation

A significant aspect of the revolution of the palette that directly changed the painting process is the preparation of the pigments. Prior to falangcai, “raw” pigments were applied on the more traditional famille verte wares, in the sense that the colors are shown differently before and after the firing (Wang 138). This is also the case of the iconic Delft Blue. When applying cobalt blue on the biscuit, the potters could only see dull grey instead of vivid blue. Only after the firing, the cobalt would turn blue. Precisely because of this characteristic of the raw pigments, it was extremely difficult, most of the time impossible, for the potters to generate new colors simply by mixing the ingredients (ibid). On the contrary, “cooked” pigments – metal colorants added to heated glass flux, ground to a fine powder after cooling down, and mixed with either water, glue or oil – were used to paint falangcai and the later famille rose; in this way, pigments stayed the same before and after the firing; as a result, potters could easily mix the colored powder to make new colors and control the entire effect when painting the decorations on porcelain as on canvas (Shih 2012, 24-5). Such a change in preparing the pigments from “raw” to “cooked” was in all probability inspired by European enameled glass, which went through the same evolution (Wang 129). The ingredients were mixed cold all together in the eleventh century, while from the sixteenth century onwards, the mixture of highly fusible lead glass with a variety of metallic oxide colorants was dissolved under strong heat to produce the desired colors (Davison 132).

In addition to the possible inspiration of pigments preparation from European enameled glass, the use of European raw materials and recipes are more evident. The temperature of producing enamel pigments is extremely crucial to color rendering because the glass powder of various colors must be fused perfectly together at a certain temperature to avoid discoloration and simultaneously does not exceed a certain amount to prevent over melting and rendering of the colors (Wang 140). Recent Raman studies offer more insights into the use of European raw materials or enamel pigments in Chinese porcelain. In two separate non-invasive analyses led by Philippe Colomban, the use of European cobalt ore or blue enamel imported from Europe in the late Kangxi period for painted enamel on porcelain is confirmed (Colomban 2017b, 10; Colomban 2020, 936). Moreover, the use of Naples Yellow lead pyrochlore, a typical characteristic of European recipes, was detected in painted enamel metalware and porcelain (Colomban 2020, 916). However, the signature of pyrochlore composition was not usually observed in painted enamels before the Qianlong period (Colomban 2022, 251). The same type of Naples Yellow was found in an Amsterdam Bont dish (circa 1710-1730, 1–3 decades before Qianlong’s reign), Chinese porcelain later decorated in The Netherlands (ibid). Unfortunately, we do not know yet whether Delft potters prepared the enameling pigments “raw” or “cooked”.

Colloidal Gold – Purple of Cassius?

Famille rose, as its name suggests, this type of polychrome porcelain is characterized by its overglaze red to rose color. The emergence of pink enamel owed much to red from colloidal gold. By mixing the red pigments with other colors, the craftsmen were able to generate an extensive range of enamels of various colors. In fact, Shih points out that the colloidal gold could not have been invented based on China’s previous experience in the making of wucai or cloisonné but must have been made from imported materials or by someone who understood the entire production process (Shih 2011, 70). She speculates that the use of pink was in all likelihood inspired by the seventeenth-century European recipe, Purple of Cassius (ibid).

Fig. 3 De Auro (1685) by Andreas Cassius (Hunt 138).

Andreas Cassius of Leiden has been ascribed to the discovery of purple preparation from colloidal gold and stannous hydroxide in the literature on gold, glass, and ceramics for the last 300 years; his 1685 work, De Auro (Fig. 3) reveals the means of producing enamel colors from pink to maroon (Hunt 134). “Purple of Cassius” is termed to describe such a method. Nevertheless, the method was already known and recorded some 25 years before De Auro and was successfully applied to produce a fine ruby glass (ibid). The German chemist, Johann Kunckel was the first to consistently produce ruby glass on a large scale from purple precipitate made from a gold chloride solution and tin (Hunt 137). However, Kunckel’s recipe was not revealed to the public until his 1716 publication, Laboratorium Chymicum, written by himself around 1700 and edited by his friend Johann Caspar Engellender after Kunckel’s death (ibid). Furthermore, Kunckel states in his publication that Dr Cassius attempted to introduce the purple precipitate into glass but could not achieve a stable and durable red (ibid). We do not know whether Kunckel and Cassius had contact with each other but Kunckel owed much of his glazing knowledge to his travel in Delft. In his 1679 treatise, Ars Experimentalis oder Vollkommene Glasmacher Kunst, Kunckel reveals the close connection between the techniques of painting on glass and faience and describes more than 60 infallible recipes to reproduce the fine glazes used by Delft potters (Van Aken-Fehmers 64). Even some 40 years after the 1679 treatise, Kunckel is still praised on his expertise in the craft of glass-painting as well as various techniques for the production of Delftware and glazes in a 1722 issue of a Dutch periodical (ibid).

Fig. 4 Portrait of Johann Kunckel von Löwenstern, © The Trustees of the British Museum

There are two types of scientific approaches to detect whether the red from colloidal gold was produced based on Purple of Cassius. In Cassius’ recipe, tin functions as a metallic reducing agent to maintain the stable existence of gold particles in a metal state (Wang 142). Thus, the tin element in red to pink enamels is an indication of using the recipe “Purple of Cassius”. The other approach is to compare the electric image of gold particles in Chinese-made enamels with that in European enamels; the gold particles in Chinese enamel stood independently in glass phrase, while a microcrystalline structure was around the latter gold particles (Wang 143). Based on several previous studies, Wang concludes that the colloidal gold made according to Purple of Cassius is confirmed to be used on enameled porcelain in the nineteenth century; colloidal gold in objects from the Kangxi and Yongzheng period, however, does not contain a tin element (Wang 141-3). Wang thinks that the craftsmen replaced tin with some other reducing agent to make colloidal gold during Kangxi and Yongzheng’s time (Wang 142). In a more recent investigation of a falangcai bowl from the Kangxi period, arsenic salt was found in the preparing route for obtaining colloidal gold precipitate (Colomban et al. 2020, 930). The authors point out that differing from the tin salt used in Kunckel’s recipe, Bernard Perrot, a glassmaker who was active during the reign of Louis XIV, used arsenic salt in his recipe (ibid). The precipitation of colloidal gold with arsenic salt is a characteristic of Perrot’s recipe, while Kunckel’s approach with tin salts was more common in the eighteenth century to manufacture ruby glass and Cassius purple glaze (Colomban and Kirmizi 141).

So far, we do not yet have evidence of Purple of Cassius being used in the Kangxi and Yongzheng periods. Nevertheless, the Jesuit letters might again offer some inspiration. As stated earlier, Father Gravereau, the enameller Kangxi was looking for for years, made a list of enamel materials and pigments, which was attached to the letter Father De Mailla sent to Paris in 1720. One of the ingredients that Father Gravereau asked for was “one ounce of carmine placed in a pewter box” (Curtis 113). It is assumed that Gravereau might have read Kunckel’s or Cassius’ recipe and wanted to reconstruct colloidal gold in this way at the workshop (Wang 142). Nonetheless, Gravereau likely did not receive those materials during his short 3-year stay before he went back to France (ibid).

Certainly, during the testing stage, there could not be merely two methods to produce pink enamels, for example copper ruby. The first imperial workshop was established in 1693 to produce cloisonné enamels; the preparation of painted enamel pigments presumably began with the opening of the glass workshop in the same year, while a dedicated painted enamel workshop was opened in 1716; around the same time, another production center of painted enamel was put into use in Guangdong (Colomban et al. 2020, 252). Simultaneously, the imperial kilns in Jingdezhen never ceased their production. The material, knowledge, and personnel exchanges among these places made the new painted enamel on porcelain possible. It is thus no surprise that various recipes, pigments, and materials were detected, even from the same kiln/workshop. Colomban et al.’s latest analysis also shows that in contrast to the imported recipes used at the end of Kangxi’s reign, there was a clear return to the traditional techniques in the late years of Yongzheng (Colomban et al. 2022, 252).

The Muffle Kiln

No documentation has been discovered so far describing the kilns used at the imperial workshop. As the imperial workshop was only responsible for overglaze decorations, Shih thinks that these kilns were not big and easy to demolish and rebuild (Shih 2011, 67). Fortunately, Tao Ye Tu Ce (Illustrated Album of Ceramics Making), an album made under Qianlong’s order to present the production process of the imperial kilns at Jingdezhen, can shed light on the kilns to fire the enamels in the imperial workshop. According to the album, two types of kilns were used for overglaze polychrome porcelain, namely ming kiln and an kiln; based on the description of the ming kiln, scholars speculate in all probability that it fits the description of muffle kiln from Europe (Shih 2011, 68). Fig. 5 is the chapter, “Ming Kiln and An Kiln”, in which one can see the kiln in the upper right corner consistent with the depiction of ming kiln (ibid). Furthermore, in his letter to France in 1712 depicting the kilns for the second firing at Jingdezhen, Father François Xavier d’Entrecolles simply accounted one type of kiln in detail, which accords with an kiln, used to fire traditional wucai decorations (ibid). The ming kiln at Jingdezhen was most likely introduced from the imperial workshop (ibid). Such kilns might have been introduced by the Jesuits Fathers or at least inspired by the muffle kilns in Europe (ibid). As a result, there was no need to depict the type of kiln came from Europe.

In Delft, the muffle kiln used for the mixed firing technique was developed around 1680 by Jannetge van Straten and her son Rochus Hoppesteyn from Het Moriaenshooft (Lunsingh Scheurleer 18). The technique was developed to solve problems when imitating Japanese Kakiemon and Imari wares. When the technical problems were overcome in about 1700, in addition to black, red, and gold, the muffle kiln was also suitable for making other enamels, such as green, yellow, and pink (Jörg 1984, 21). At this stage, Delft potters would not imagine the techniques that they developed to imitate Japanese porcelain would contribute to the production of famille rose, which reached the Dutch market in 2-3 decades later.

Fig. 5 Tao Ye Tu Ce (Illustrated Album of Ceramics Making), “Ming & An Kilns” (Shih 2011, 69).


From the sixteenth century onwards, Europe and the Far East commenced having direct contact with each other. Since then, the cultural, material, and scientific exchanges have never ceased. At the end of the century, the Dutch encountered the Chinese in Bantam (Yang 323). With the establishment of the VOC, the Dutch-China trade began and Chinese blue-and-white porcelain reached The Netherlands in great quantities. The breakthrough for polychrome porcelain did not happen until the VOC started to import Japanese porcelain in 1659 (Jörg 2014, 140). From about 1670, one sees the development of colored Delftware, decorated with enamel colors imitating polychrome porcelain (Jörg 1984, 20).

In the development of painted enamels in the Qing dynasty, this article focused on the starting and testing stage during the Kangxi period until the late Yongzheng period when Chinese potters completely mastered the techniques. Among the various terms of polychrome porcelain, falangcai, the rarest type of painted enamel on porcelain, is the link between the preceding famille verte and the following famille rose. The latter two were both imported to The Netherlands and became sources of imitation and inspiration for Delft potters. Compared to the previous polychrome porcelain, falangcai and famille rose were produced in an entirely revolutionized manufacturing system. As a result, the decorations of these are more painting alike with more vivid colors and exquisite color rendering.

The most important contribution of such realization is the emperors’ devotion. As the most powerful person in China, Kangxi was able to use all the best resources that he had from China and Europe and began the experiments. His dedication derived from two reasons, appreciation and competition. The appreciation came from the beautiful enamel wares brought by the Jesuit Fathers and the VOC merchants and embassies. Both as mediators of China and Europe, the Jesuits had more detailed documentation of their contributions, whereas the VOC is seen more as the off-the-record impact on the artistic and material culture in China. Moreover, due to the distinctive nature of the two, the Jesuits and VOC did not see eye-to-eye and often competed with each other. Another explanation for his dedication is Kangxi’s competitive spirit, which is shown in his reaction to the gifts that Paats brought. In addition to that, the timing is crucial. As the second emperor of the Qing dynasty, Kangxi wiped out the remnants of the Ming dynasty and completed the great unification of China in the last decade of the seventeenth century, which coincides with the establishment of the first imperial workshop at the Forbidden City in 1693. Owing to domestic stability, Kangxi was able to focus on developing his own enamel wares out of his sense of cultural contending with Europe.

With the emperors’ devotion, the techniques and materials of enameling from Europe led to the revolution of the palette. Based on the Jesuits letters and various objects from the late Kangxi and early Yongzheng period, we can see that the imperial workshop could cook enamel pigments and bake enameled porcelain during this time. Still, the outcomes were not always satisfying and successful. At this stage, related European knowledge and materials were still in need. The study led by Colomban indeed proves that more imported recipes were used in the late years of Kangxi and by the end of the Yongzheng reign, more traditional techniques were applied (Colomban et al. 2022, 252).

European imported knowledge and materials of enameling, along with the best Chinese craftsmen and materials, were collected in the imperial workshop in Beijing to manufacture painted enamel on porcelain. When the techniques were developed, they were brought back to the kilns in Jingdezhen. The kilns in Jingdezhen then made famille rose and exported to Europe. These colorful wares inspired by European enamels further became Delft potters’ sources of inspiration and imitation. The contribution in making enameled porcelain from Delft potters is likely to be the muffle kiln technique and Purple of Cassius. Only one Amsterdam Bont dish was so far examined through non-invasive Raman analysis (Colomban et al. 2022). More analyses of falangcai and enameled Delftware can perhaps reveal more definite connections.


[1] Yincai : hard color; fencai : pink color; ruancai : soft color; yangcai : foreign color.

[2] The 5 Fathers arrived in Beijing in 1688: Jean de Fontaney, Jean Francois Gerbillonm, Claude Visdelou, Louis Le Comte, and Joachim Bouvet (Shih 2013, 154).

Works Cited:

Colomban, Philippe, and Burcu Kirmizi. “Non-invasive on-site Raman Study of Polychrome and White Enameled Glass Artefacts in Imitation of Porcelain Assigned to Bernard Perrot and His Followers.” Journal of Raman Spectroscopy, Vol. 51, 2020, pp. 133-146.

Colomban, Philippe, et al. “Comparative Analysis of Wucai Chinese Porcelains Using Mobile and Fixed Raman Microspectrometers.” Ceramics International, Vol. 43, 2017a, pp. 14244-14256.

—. “Investigation of the Pigments and Glassy Matrix of Painted Enameled Qing Dynasty Chinese Porcelains by Noninvasive On-site Raman Microspectrometry.” Heritage, 3(3), 2020, pp. 915-940.

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Text by
Yang Xu for Aronson Antiquairs

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