China, Kangxi period (1662-1722) circa 1700
Height: 16 cm
Diameter: 10.4 cm:
Private Collection, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Vanderven Imitation & Inspiration Catalogue 2021, no. 5
An enamel on biscuit (sousancai) fruit pyramid, with naturalistically moulded peaches, piled in a fluted dish. The coloured enamelling is in a various shades of ochre-yellow, green and brown. The 16 pieces of miniature fruit are arranged in four layers, with green leaves and brown stems added in between. The fluted under-dish, is glazed a warm ochre yellow, the underside left unglazed. Each peach would have been individually moulded, then arranged layer by layer and joined with slip; the veined leaves and branches were added last before the first firing. Coloured glazes would then be added onto the fired biscuit, after which it was fired again at a lower temperature in a so-called muffle kiln.
Porcelain models of fruit pyramids, derive from the Chinese tradition of piling offerings of various sweetmeats on the household or temple altar; either for ancestor worship or in the tomb for the afterlife. Artificial fruit dishes such as these, were a beautiful as well as practical alternative to fresh fruit. Similar pyramids are known with a variety of fruit depicted, such as pomegranates, finger citrus, walnuts, lychees and melons. These charming and quirky pieces were not only used in China, but also exported to the West as luxurious curiosities in the 18thcentury. The earliest recorded example in Europe of such a pyramid depicting pomegranates, was a small hand drawn sketch added to a French auction catalogue in 1769.
Peaches (prunus persica), are one of the oldest fruit in China and favourite fruit of the Emperors. Perhaps this is why it became the most depicted fruit in Chinese art. The peach is actually indigenous to China and the history of its current cultivars can be traced as far back as 1000 BC, when they are first mentioned in Chinese literature. However, there is even earlier physical evidence of the consumption of peaches, as their fruit stones have been found at various archaeological digs, the earliest at Kuahuqiao on the lower Yangtze delta, dating from 6000 BC. China is currently the largest single producer of peaches in the world, accounting for 50% of world production.
A peach pyramid in the same colourway is in the RA Collection, Brazil and the Burrell Collection, Glasgow (nr.38.872). One with purple and turquoise glazes, without a dish, is in the Anthony the Rothschild Collection, UK. Two fruit pyramids were depicted in the Berlin Chinese Art exhibition catalogue in 1929.
Vanderven Oriental Art