- PROPOSED STORIES OF THE CHINESE COFFEE POT
It is basically, the summary of my contextual analysis. In the respective post, this part is bold.
Seeing the growing demand of coffee consumption, it can be said that the demand for coffee during the period of the Chinese Porcelain Pot (around 1735) was highly increasing in the Europe.
Coffeeshop in Europe
There is a woman behind the bar and a boy as the server on the paintings. But, it is as if implied that the role of women and children are less important than the men and that coffeehouse belongs for men. Does it mean that the demand of coffee pot is higher for men as the consumers are mostly men? How about the Chinese Coffee pot that seems to be feminine and made for women? Maybe, its export to Europe was not made for coffeeshops and was made for more either personal use or simply targeted at women.
Coffee drinking in China
Even though the planting of coffee in China has been high, the consumption of it was not in demand in 1800s. Hence, the Chinese Coffee Pot was really made for European market demand in which it is likely that the making and consideration of the porcelain was not based on for local consumption but really to fulfil the European demand.
A possibility is that England (and its colonies) might not be the main export market for porcelain during the YongZheng era. Or another possibility is that if England was a market for Chinese porcelain, that the thumb-piece was still made in order to make it stood out of competitors due to its unique and unusual element in the English market. Either way, it seems that the industry of coffee pot porcelain was versatile during the time and the competition might be high and therefore following and adapting to the trend of form of coffee pot might have a been an important and carefully-considered strategy when the Chinese Coffee Pot was made to remain competitive.
Stye and Shape
After the analysis, it is evident for me to say that Rococo has influenced the shape of the Chinese Coffee Pot to a certain extent. It is not into a very elaborate and detailed like the one made in the Europe as the surface of the pot can be considered to be smooth, but it incorporated small details of Rococo elements. Therefore, I would say that even though the pot was influenced by Rococo and made for the demand of Europe, the Chinese still keep the basic essence of the Chinese porcelain (texture and painting) while adapting some parts into shapes that are relatable more relatable to Rococo in the shape way.
Analysing the colour of the pot was quite interesting. It is true that the colour of the Chinese Coffee Pot is under the trend of the newly invented Famille Rose under the ruling of Emperor YongZheng. Simply put, I can say that the colour of the Chinese Coffee Pot is following the family colour of the supply in China at that moment. It might be caused of the lower production cost when colouring is done in mass and shared between a lot of porcelain (rather than customising it for every piece). Therefore, even though the palette is considered to be softer and more feminine, it does not necessarily means that the Chinese Coffee Pot was made targeted to women market based on its colour as everything else was made with Famille Rose as well.
At the same time, the choice to learn, develop and apply the new colour might be a step taken to level up the competition of porcelain market in the Europe. The demand for porcelain might have became saturated before (due to the long lasting demanded blue-white porcelain), therefore there was the need to make the newly innovative colour that give European more options and choice. Also, due to the unique colour of Famille Rose, the Chinese Coffee Pot might also be bringing the ‘new Chinese’ to the Europe.
The flowers on the Chinese Coffee Pot may mean to carry the message of “May you wealth and fortune throughout the year” and that it will go on for good for the owner.
The line might have been made with the intention of giving some kind of visual illusion that represents the depth and shape of the coffee pots style in Europe. It seems like the lines were made with influence of European coffee pot style and demand during that time in order to make it more appealing in the European market.
I may say that a possible narratives for the coffee pot is the related to the context of New Year’s Festival as well. One boy on the coffee pot seems to be blowing a trumpet in joyous gesture while the other one seems like holding a magic bottles, releasing mythical spirits and beasts. As the coffee pot was made around the same period as the vases, it is likely that the mindset of the people for children is that the birth of sons was highly desired and will bring luck to the family. Therefore, the narrative carry the innocence and magic of childhood as well as a message that having sons will bring good fortune.
In that way, the boy visuals may be a marketing strategy to make the coffee pot more appealing as it radiates the happiness and innocence of the (buyer’s) childhood. While at the same time believe to bring good fortune, for those who believe so.
The lady might represents that the social status of the lady of coffee pot is lower than a court ladies, it is possible for the lady to represents commoners.
But again, why would the lady be a Chinese lady if the target market is European? Some possible scenario that I could think of is that the coffee pot might be targeted for Chinese ladies staying in Europe. But it is unlikely as the demand for coffee in China, so I assume for Chinese descendant in Europe as well, might not be that high for the cost producing such porcelain. Another scenario is that maybe the Chinese fashion and style was also a trend in Europe during that period, therefore it was made to appeal fashionable and cater the European market.
The golden pheasant might mean to bring beauty, good fortune and refinement for the coffee pot owner. At the same time, it might be a wish to gain promotion or authority. These wishes make the elements more meaningful to make the coffee pot more demanded and wanted in the market.
As the museum only show one side and top view of the coffee pot, there is a possibility of an imperial mark or even poem on the unseen part. The imperial mark of YongZheng night be found at the bottom of the coffee pot and written in either kaishu or zhuanshu. Also, if there is a poem on the other side, that means that the coffee pot was considered as one of the best pieces produced.
Additional Visual Observation
The top half of the pot is having Chinese elements while the bottom half has European element. The Rococo style use the colour of gold with some consideration in mind, in this coffee pot the colour of gold is only used at the top half, where the Chinese elements are on. Is it meant for some relationship between China and Europe to be implied? Is the Chinese implicitly saying that they are of higher position (literally) and are better (gold) than the European?
Proposed stories of the Chinese Coffee Pot
Honestly, this is the post that I’ve been waiting for. Other than this is the last part, I also have been having different possible thoughts, stories and scenarios for the Chinese Coffee Pot.
Basically, I have been wondering why the pot was made the way it was. For obvious business reasons (let me assume that the Chinese at that period has been economical and thrifty as well), it must have been for the demand and supply available. It was made that way because a lot of people will buy it, it was made because producing it was affordable, it was made because we could have made it. Simply, it was made because it was profitable. Let’s say that was the case if the Chinese Coffee Pot was mass produced.
But… What if.. it was not…?
What if it was an item customised for something or someone and it had its own story behind its making?
Disclaimer: the following are purely fictional and compiled based on the different things that passed through my mind while doing the research and study for the Chinese Coffee Pot.
- The Chinese Coffee Pot was made for wedding gift for a Chinese lady who had married a European man to wish them a happy wedding. It was common for porcelain to be used as gifts. The man might have liked coffee while I am not sure about the lady as not many Chinese favour coffee in that period. But the Chinese Coffee Pot and its matching accessories (cups, saucer, tray, etc) became a collection of their household. However this might be unlikely as it was the period of armorial porcelain as well, if that is the case then the gift would have been better to be the set bearing the family crest of the man, but there was no indication of such thing.
- The Chinese Coffee Pot was made as a gift for European couple who had visited China. It was simply customised for them as they wish to have something to bring back and they loved the idea of a big family thus the pattern. They might have waited for weeks to get it ready.
- The Chinese Coffee Pot was made upon request of European parent who just lost their son and want to have something to remember him. The boy might have liked coffee during his life or a happy childhood in China.
- The Chinese Coffee Pot was made for someone who is leaving China. It might be close to the new year period and therefore the design is about the joy of new year seen in the boys.
- The Chinese Coffee Pot was made in China for a Chinese family who simply want to have it. Their family might be one of few who liked coffee during that time.
Okay, those are just some stories I could think about the Chinese Coffee Pot so far. However, my point is that, while doing all of this, even though it was only about one object, I found that there are so many elements and details that created them. It’s like there is endless possibility and inference about the background and story of the object itself. It is as if there is layers and layers of things that the more you know, the more you feel you don’t know. It might sounds weird but ya, sometimes it might be impossible to define a story in just one point of view. As time goes, every object continues to shape its own story, be it the same story as when it was made or another new story every time. I guess, I will never know. The main message I realised throughout reminds me of the saying… “don’t judge a book by its cover”.
I never thought I would be so immersed in researching and trying to understand one object like the Chinese Coffee Pot. I realised that during research I can’t really stop when I haven’t find a reasonable or satisfying reason for the thing I was looking for. It felt incomplete and I ended up having (really) a lot of things to include, and at the end I have no idea what to cut down anymore. So, I guess I am glad it finally reach the end of the contextual analysis. It was fun. Thanks for reading! 😀