18th century porcelain: Ornithology, symbolism or just plain pretty?

Published 25th January 2013

 a longton hall porcelain cup in the goose pattern circa 1758-60

A Longton Hall porcelain cup in the Goose pattern circa 1758-60 (FS17/79)

Bird watching, twitching or whatever devotees call it seems, unless I am wrong, a curiously Northern European or American hobby, perhaps it is the migratory instincts of birds that make them so fascinating. Exotic visitors from far off places can cause a stir and provide a link to another culture and geography. Porcelain was likewise an exotic Oriental visitor to these shores, so it is little wonder that birds appear regularly on 18th century porcelain.

 an early worcester porcelain cream jug in the strutting bird pattern circa 1752-53

An early Worcester porcelain cream jug in the Strutting Bird pattern circa 1752-53 (FS17/82)

The bird most familiar to both is the Quail, a good source of food and admired by the Chinese for its strength of character and ability to fight it was used by Meissen, Chantilly, Bow, Chelsea and Longton Hall to name a few. Longton Hall porcelain also produced a rather ‘domestic’ Goose pattern, though it does seem a little over colourful in its conception. Worcester porcelain also have an early pattern called ‘Strutting Bird’ though there can be little doubt that this design in the Chinese idiom is a crane – a symbol of longevity that carried the souls of Immortals bridging the gap between this world and the next, the cranes that appear on the Arita dish certainly look more celestial.

 a late 17th or early 18th century arita porcelain dish

A late 17th or early 18th century Arita porcelain dish (FS17/154)

If you are looking for something a little more imaginary then the so called ‘Soqui’ birds that feature on Plymouth porcelain one might passably consider them pheasants and emblematic of matrimonial pairing. Whether you buy into or understand the bird symbolism or not they are a real flight of fancy.

a plymouth porcelain mug circa 1768-70 decorated with 'soqui' birds

A Plymouth porcelain mug circa 1768-70 decorated with 'Soqui' Birds (FS17/44)

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