Chinese vases and jars are sometimes painted with narrative scenes presented almost as though a scroll had been wrapped around the surface. Two unrelated narrative scenes encircle the body and neck of this vase.
On the body:
In an incident related in a famous Chinese poem an emperor visits his deceased beloved in the realm of the immortals.
The emperor Ming Huang (Tang Xuan Zong; 712–756) had a well-known love affair with a court lady usually known as Yang Guifei. Political disorder plagued China during the emperor’s reign, and he was eventually forced to agree that his “precious consort” be killed. The story was romanticized in “The Song of Everlasting Regret” by the great poet Bo Juyi (772–846). The poet imagined the emperor sending an envoy to find the spirit of his beloved and tell her of his unending devotion. The lady responded by quoting words they had once exchanged and speaking of her despair:
At the night’s mid-point, when we spoke alone, with no one else around—
“In heaven, would that we might become birds of coupled wings!
On earth, would that we might be trees of intertwining limbs! . . .”
Heaven is lasting, earth long-standing, but there is a season for their end;
This regret stretches on and farther, with no ending time.
Translated by Paul W. Kroll
On the vase the figure of the emperor stands inside a gate labeled “Moon Palace” flanked by his envoy, a red-bearded Taoist adept. Beyond them the spirit of Yang Guifei, now a moon goddess, looks toward the emperor from a balcony. Behind her are celestial musicians.
On the neck:
The deity Zhang Xian is the protector of young children and a bringer of sons. He is represented as a bearded civil official surrounded by little boys. Because the Dog Star (symbolized here as a dog) was thought to cause the death of male infants, Zhang Xian is shown shooting it with a pellet bow.