The ‘transitional’ period, referring to the interim after Ming decline but before Qing control, represents a fascinating period of Chinese history. Like so many other historical periods, cultural and political developments are clearly reflected in the narrative of porcelain design. During this period of upheaval in China, lack of imperial patronage meant that the highly skilled potters of Jingdezhen were forced to innovate and look for new markets in order to survive, resulting in a new range of highly dynamic and varied designs. An expansion of printed material also meant that more visual sources were available for artists, reflected in the new variety of landscape and figurative scenes. Examples of the wares produced for export markets during this period include Ko-Sometsuke made for the Japanese market, where demand was driven by the increasing popularity of the tea ceremony, and wares produced for the Dutch market, with designs incorporating tulip or ‘stiff leaf’ patterns. However, the porcelain which is now referred to as ‘transitional’ generally relates to wares decorated in the Chinese taste, with Chinese landscapes or scenes depicting traditional Chinese mythical figures, as seen on this dish. Often referred to as ‘violets in milk’, the deep shade of blue commonly seen in wares of this period eventually gave way to the famille verte and famille rose designs which became popular in the Qing as enamel technology advanced.
Shoulao is god of longevity and is associated with the Canopus star of the South Pole. He is usually represented as an old man, bald, with a high forehead and long white beard, carrying a staff and a peach. In China, he is one of the three gods known collectively as 'Fu-Lu-Shou san xing' (the three stellar deities of happiness, wealth and longevity), the others being Fu xing (God of Happiness) and Lu xing (God of Wealth).