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KANGXI PERIOD (1661-1722)


Height: 17 ¼ inches



Vermeer & Griggs Asian Art, Georgia



Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 

The Colors of Earth, Kangxi Era Porcelain

from the Stamen Collection, 2002, no. 22.



A profusion of butterflies conveys a wish for great joy. The present vase amply illustrates the auspicious sentiment with a dazzling array of butterflies, not one like another. The artist has given individuality to each emphasizing the importance and significance of the symbol and showing that this vase is more than a decorative luxury object. The colorful insect has long been associated with a happy state. As early as the 4th century BC Zhuangzi, the Daoist philosopher, famously recorded a dream:


“Once Zhuang Zhou dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn’t know he was Zhuang Zhou. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuang Zhou. But he didn’t know if he was Zhuang Zhou who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuang Zhou. Between Zhuang Zhou and a butterfly there must be some distinction! This

is called the Transformation of Things”.


The Complete Works of Zhuangzi, section 2, translated

by Burton Watson, New York, 1968, p.49.


The presence of an abundance of the fluttering insects multiplies the sensation of carefree joy.  There is an added significance too.  According to Terese Tse Bartholomew, "Many butterflies can have yet another meaning: 'May the hundred (all) blessings settle here,'” Hidden Meanings in Chinese Art, San Francisco, 2006, p. 32, no. 1.3.1. In addition, the word for butterfly is a homophone for a word that refers to someone who is seventy or eighty years of age. This play on words also makes the butterfly a symbol for a long life. A similar example, of the same dimension and unmarked on the base, from the Qing Court Collection is illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, vol. 38, Hong Kong, 1999, no.122.



Text and images on this page appear courtesy of ​

Sotheby's New York and are excerpted from:

Sotheby's New York. Embracing Classic Chinese Culture: 

Kangxi Porcelain from the Jie Rui Tang Collection. 

March 14, 2014, p. 66. [exhibition catalog].

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