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Chinese Famille Rose Charger, Yongzheng (1723-35), decorated to the centre with a mythical fenghuang (Chinese phoenix) appearing in the sky above three scholars in flowing robes holding respectively a flute, a ruyi-headed sceptre and a set of sheng (traditional bamboo pipes), all standing in a fenced garden with peony and bamboo, a rug with bowl and vase containing precious objects at their feet; the cavetto with four ogee-shaped cartouches containing beribboned precious objects, the flat rim with four floral arrangements comprising lotus, plum blossom and peony; the reverse with four further sprays of peony in iron red
The mythical fenghuang is an immortal and sacred bird, referenced in sources as early as Shang-dynasty bone inscriptions. It is said to appear very rarely to humans as an omen of political stability and peace at the ascent of a new emperor. The connection between its appearance and great virtue meant that it was a popular theme in ceramic and furnishing design during the Ming and Qing, as it implied that the household was honest and good. The Fenghuang is also said to be drawn to human music, indicated here by the musical instruments held by the scholars. According to Chinese legend, a scholar of ancient times named Ling Lun was sent by Emperor Huangdi to the mountains in order to carve bamboo pipes that could imitate the call of the fenghuang, thus making possible a music pitched to harmonise his reign with the universe.