Description & Technical information

Dutch Market

A Chinese export porcelain large plate brightly enamelled with a scene showing The Doctors’ Visit after a design by Cornelis Pronk, with a low table of European design on which rests a large kraak porcelain dish, the rim with waterbirds and reserves of fish trios.

The scene on this plate is known as The Doctor's Visit to the Emperor after the Dutch artist Cornelis Pronk. It was the second drawing for the VOC, commissioned from Cornelis Pronk in 1735, and, like the others, it portrays a very Western view of life in China. For example the table is of a European design and the dish on it is of the kraak style, which is a type that was exported to the West in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries and would not have been used by the Emperor. The parrot often symbolises a prostitute or painted courtesan in Chinese art, so would never have been included next to the Emperor.
The design arrived in Canton in 1737 on the VOC ship Hogersmilde and presented the supercargoes responsible for placing the porcelain order with a problem familiar from the first Pronk design: both were highly detailed and therefore very expensive to produce, and so the supercargoes dared place only a small order.
A second slightly larger order was placed the following year, but in 1739 another less detailed version of this design, omitting the standing figure, was sent to Canton in hope of reducing the price of production. The supercargoes were unable to obtain a satisfactory reduction in the price and reported that they would not be placing an order after all. However, the records from the VOC show that a large order of 60 dinner services of 371 pieces, thirty more of 94 pieces and 830 pieces of tea wares was placed. Strangely, pieces of the second version are now much less common than pieces of the first, despite being apparently ordered in far larger numbers.
In this design the two seated figures on the right are each presenting a small fish to the Emperor on the left. This may be a reference to Le Comte’s Nouveau mémoire sur l'état présent de la Chine (1696) in which he compares the Chinese custom of prescribing rice and fish as a curative, to the Dutch tradition of selling fresh herring (Hollandse Nieuwe) as a cure for illness. This was referenced in Vol IV of The Religious Ceremonies of the World by B Picart & JF Bernard, first published in Amsterdam, 1723-1737, so Pronk may have been aware of the idea from the latter.
The fish found here are interesting and although it is not possible to identify all of these, they seem to be mainly tropical marine fish from the Indo-Pacific region, where a number of Dutch naturalists were working in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Notable among them was VOC naturalist Samuel Fallours whose drawings were used for Louis Renard’s Poissons, Ecrevisses et Crabes, (1719, Amsterdam: Louis Renard) and later for the fanciful Vol. 3 of Francois Valentijn’s Oude en Nieuw Oost Indien, (1726, Dordrecht & Amsterdam: Joannes van Braam & Gerard Onder de Linden) which has fish laid out in trios, on land, as does a plate in Pluche’s Spectacle de la Nature, first published in 1732.
The birds in this design are waterbirds, apart from the peacock and parrot in the main image. The source for the storks has not been found but the Avocet and the two ducks, (Garganey and Muscovy Duck), are from the 1718 edition of Theatrum Universale Omnium Animalium by John Jonston and engraved by Matthaus Merian the younger. The parrot is strikingly similar in pose to the parrot found on the next item.

References: Jörg 1980, pp 26-7, items with this design;  Howard & Ayers 1978, p294, discussion of Pronk designs; Pietsch, TW (Ed) 1995, discussion of the Fallours fish drawings in Renard’s Poissons etc; Cohen & Cohen 1999, p35, a pair of famille rose cisterns with this design; C&C 2008, a cistern and basin with identification of many of the fish; C&C 2012, p38, a plate; Wirgin 1998, p177, a basin with different fish trio inside, in Imari palette; C&C 2014-A, p34, for Pronk bird sources; Hunt et al (2010) The Book That Changed Europe, p235-6.

Date:  Qianlong period circa 1740
Period:  1600-1750, 18th century
Origin:  China
Medium: Porcelain famille rose
Dimensions: 26 cm (10¹/₄ inches)
Categories: Oriental and Asian Art