Blanc de Chine Exhibition Catalogue, New York Institute Gallery, 2002, p. 96, no. 47, illustrating a very similar model.
A very fine Kangxi Dehua Blanc de Chine figure of Guan-Di seated on his horse on a base of clouds, the porcelain further ornamented with elaborate Louis XV gilt bronze mounts consisting of floral and foliate sprays behind the god of war and a pierced rocaille and foliate C-scrolled base
The figurine: Dehua, China, Kangxi period (1662-1722); the gilt bronze mounts: Paris, circa 1740
Height 38 cm, width 30 cm, depth 20 cm.
This extremely fine Blanc de Chine figurine shows Guan-Di (also known as Kuan Ti or Kuan Yu) who has variously been described as the god of war and justice as well as god of loyalty. Guan-Di was also said to have been able to memorise complete books at a single reading and hence was sometimes shown holding a book and pen to indicate that he was also the god of literature. He was believed to have been capable of averting war and of protecting his people and was not only worshipped for his might but was also considered the embodiment of correct action, integrity and loyalty.
The god of war was based on an historic figure, the bean-curd seller Zhang (162-220 CE), who changed his name to Guan and became an adventurer and general in the army. As General Guan Yu, he served under the founder of one of the three realms but in 220 CE was executed by order of a hostile ruler. In 1594 he was canonised by a Ming Emperor as god of war and protector of China and its people, while the title of Military Emperor was bestowed upon him during the nineteenth century.
Today, Blanc de Chine pieces are some of the most sought-after collectibles in the world of Chinese art, their aesthetic appeal lying in their distinct shapes and colour, and their uniquely delicate and glass-like glaze. The French termed it Blanc de Chine on account of its beautiful pure white glaze. Distinguished by its white clay body and milky ivory-white glaze that seamlessly appears to adhere to the porcelain body, Blanc de Chine was made at the kilns of Dehua, capital of the Fujian province in south eastern China. Since 1954 Chinese archaeologists have discovered more than 300 kiln sites in the province dating from the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, while by 1990, 148 kiln sites had been discovered and documented specifically as belonging to the Dehua district.
Production of Blanc de Chine began during the mid-thirteenth century, although the history of the Dehua potters dates back to the Northern Song period (960-1126) and was greatly expanded during the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279). Although black, brown, green, blue-and-white and enamelled wares were also made and exported from this area it is for the brilliant white Blanc de Chine that they are most famed. Blanc de Chine came in many different forms, as Buddhist and Daoist figures and deities as well as bowls, cups, vases, other vessels and incense burners, which from the end of the seventeenth century onwards were exported in ever increasing quantities to Europe. Some of these were even made in forms designed to appeal to Western tastes.
The European porcelain factories were strongly influenced by their lustrous glaze. This was especially so in France providing inspiration for much of the porcelain made at Saint-Cloud. To a limited extent Blanc de Chine was copied at Meissen (founded 1710) during the first fifteen years of the factory's life but more especially in England by the London factories at Chelsea and Bow, during the mid to later eighteenth century. The present piece is of particular interest since having been exported west it was further embellished in Paris with elaborate Rococo mounts. The mounting of Chinese ceramics, especially those with polychrome enamel decoration, reached its apogee during the mid eighteenth century, while mounting of Blanc de Chine was much rarer.