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Qianlong's poem on a "cat bowl"


A daffodil pot glazed in the style of the Official Kiln (18th century) in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing; images from Xu Bingbin 許冰彬, “Qianlong Huangdi yu mao: cong Qinggong suo cang de maoshipen tanqi” 乾隆皇帝與貓:從清宮所藏的貓食盆談起 (Qianlong Emperor and Cats: On the Cat Bowls in the Qing court), Zijincheng 紫禁城 2021 (10): 130-141 (https://www.dpm.org.cn/explode/others/256562.html)


官窯原出宋, An Official Kiln [pot] originally from the Song,[1]

貓食卻稱。 [This] cat food [bowl] claims to be of the Tang.[2]

越器雖傳詠, Yue ware pieces, though a subject of legend,[3]

晨星久盡。 Are stars at dawn, all long hidden.

鐵釘猶見質, Traces of iron nails are still visible,[4]

火氣早潛。 Fire’s breath already submerged under the glaze.

凈水宜盆手, [With] clear water, [it] makes a good hand basin;

飼猧真不[5] For feeding a kitten, [it’s] highly inappropriate![6]


俗稱此器為唐宮貓食盆,然大內今已有三,識為宋官窯製也。[7]

This object is widely believed to be a cat bowl from a Tang palace, but there are already three of them in the inner court. It’s identified as a product from the Official Kiln of the Song.

[1] Guanyao 官窯 (literally “Official Kiln”) was one of the Five Great Kilns during the Song dynasty. In English publications on ceramics, the works from the Official Kiln are often referred to as Guan ware. [2] It has been pointed out that the form of this pot and its production technology were part of the Ru Kiln (Ruyao 汝窯) tradition, another one of the Five Great Kilns. It is just glazed in the style of the Official Kiln. Despite the nice fantasy about the luxury lifestyle of palace cats, this pot was not a cat bowl at all and it was neither from the Tang nor from the Song. It is most likely to be a product of Qianlong’s reign or slightly earlier, when the Qing court requested Jingdezhen artisans to produce porcelain in the style of a daffodil pot from the Ru Kiln; see Lü Chenglong 呂成龍, “Qianlong yuzhishi zhong de ciqi wuding juli” 乾隆御制詩中的瓷器誤定舉例 (Mistakes in porcelain identification in Qianlong’s poetry), Zijincheng 紫禁城 1998 (03): 56-59. [3] Yue ware was esteemed porcelain with celadon glazing that attained its finest quality during the ninth and tenth centuries. Qianlong Emperor uses the term as a metaphor for fine porcelain in several poems. [4] The “iron nails” are not real iron nails. This line refers to the six marks left by the thin clay supports of the firing rack. The six marks reveal the dark iron-like colour of the pot’s body beneath the glaze. [5] Red characters rhyme. [6] On other occasions, the character wo 猧 is often read as “puppy”, but Qianlong seems to take it as “kitten” consistently in his poems; see Xu Bingbin 許冰彬, “Qianlong Huangdi yu mao: cong Qinggong suo cang de maoshipen tanqi” 乾隆皇帝與貓:從清宮所藏的貓食盆談起 (Qianlong Emperor and Cats: On the Cat Bowls in the Qing court), Zijincheng 紫禁城 2021 (10): 130-141 (https://www.dpm.org.cn/explode/others/256562.html). [7] This short note is not part of the inscription on the pot but recorded in the collection of Qianlong’s poetry; see https://ctext.org/library.pl?if=gb&remap=gb&file=56252&page=20&.


Two similar pots in the National Palace Museum, Taipei:

Picture credit: National Palace Museum, Taipei

 

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3 comments

3 Comments


Well, I’m with the Emperor - clearly a cat bowl. Who knew Qianlong was a cat person ? He has gone up on my list of favourite emperors.

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Don’t complicate things!

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