CENSER, Dehua, 1650-1720.
Porcelain; height 4 ½,
diameter 6 ⅛ inches.
Originally produced for the Chinese market as censers, small containers with openwork lids such as this could have been used in the West as potpourris and have also been recorded as "butter tubs" and "sugar pots." Both octagonal and hexagonal models were produced. One of the latter is listed in the 1721 inventory of Augustus the Strong ("N16 2 hex. butter dish with stand"). The 1724 inventory of Philippe II, duke of Orléans and regent of France, includes five white porcelain covered sugar boxes in the form of potpourris with matching saucers, which most assuredly are examples of this same form. An example listed in the 1778 auction catalogue of the collection of Sophie Arnoux (or Arnould), an actress and opera singer during the 1750s, is identified as "Japanese porcelain in old white," but a marginal sketch by Gabriel Jacques de Saint-Aubin (1724-1780) shows it to be the same model as this one from Dehua. Yet another example is shown behind the famous Hong merchant Howqua in the portrait by Lamqua seen here. Its placement on its own wooden stand shows that wealthy nineteenth-century Chinese merchants also treasured such functional pieces.
Portrait of Howqua (Wu Bingjian; 1769?-1843) attributed to Lamqua (Guan Qiaochang; 1801-1860), c. 1840. Oil on canvas, 25 by 19 inches. Gift of Rebecca B. Chase, Ann B. Mathias, Charles E. Bradford; photograph by Mark Sexton.