Jingdezhen, 1860-1880. Porcelain with bamboo casing and handle; height 6⅞ inches.
Because they were frequently used for storing ginger, these humble vessels came to be called ginger jars. The form came into being during the Kangxi era and was produced in a variety of sizes by provincial kilns solely to store trade commodities. Despite its pedestrian roots, quotidian usage, and ubiquity, the ginger jar came to symbolize hearth and home in the United States and elsewhere, and many American and European artists included them in paintings. For example, Paul Cézanne rendered a similar jar, also wrapped in bamboo, in at least four still lifes. Fragments of such vessels have been found in numerous archaeological sites in the Americas, including a Native American Pomo village in northern California. While it was primarily intended for common commercial sale, the form gained notoriety in 1868 when Duveen Brothers in London sold a Kangxi example decorated with a delicate prunus pattern for the then unheard-of price of £1,200.90. Describing that jar, Jack Duveen wrote, "the white prunus sprays, nervously drawn on this palpitating blue, had an effect almost of lightning."
Common Mouse from John James Audubon (1785-1851), Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America (Philadelphia, 1839-1848). Hand-colored lithograph, 23 ⅛ by 29 ⅛ inches. Peabody Essex Museum, Philips Library; photograph by Kathy Tarantola.