During the Yongzheng period (1723-1735), as the full palette became available to Chinese enamellers for the first time, they concentrated on improving their techniques and skills and in only a short period of time were able to achieve high artistic standards which have never been surpassed.
"The Generals of the Yang Family" was a Chinese folkloric novel from the Ming dynasty, 'Yang Jia Jiang', celebrating the Yang family for their military prowess and their loyalty to the Emperor during the unstable Northern Song dynasty (960-1279). Three generations of Yang Generals were victorious in battles protecting China from northern invaders in this period. But the most poignant loyalty story of the Yang family is that of the Lady Generals, wives who rode out to battle to avenge their husbands' deaths, a tragedy that had resulted from a traitorous defection. Depictions of the female generals constitutes a revolutionary approach to the image of women in Imperial China.
The lotus is long associated with purity in China and also, as it rises anew from mud each morning to emerge in the light, with unwavering faith and loyalty. Thus the lotus here are a clear reference to the loyalty of the Yang family, while on the other jar the Lady Generals practice for battle with bamboo rods in place of swords, their fancy robes and sweet expressions - one even fixes her hair, her rod held in her teeth - seeming to belie the violence of their mission. Clearly by this period, some six centuries later, the story has become less a grim story of revenge and more a happy-ending tale of virtue.
A pair of similarly decorated large jars and covers was sold at Christie's New York, 25 January 2011, lot 98; a magnificent pair of fishbowls with this decoration that had been in the collection of Sir Henry Price, Wakehurst Place, East Sussex, was sold in The Exceptional Sale, Christie's Paris, 4 November 2015, lot 528.