The inscription on the base of these four dishes, De Cheng Zhai zhi, may be translated as reading 'Made for the Studio of Virtue and Honesty', and appears on porcelains ranging in date from the Qianlong to the Daoguang reigns. Geng Baochang notes in Ming Qing ciqi jianding, Beijing, 1993, p. 384, the appearance of the De Cheng Zhai mark on a dish from the Qianlong period decorated with grisaille landscapes. On p. 387 of the same volume the author notes the use of this mark on a Daoguang famille rose-decorated cricket jar and cover. However, it is the Qianlong dish that relates to the current pieces.
The current dishes are closely related to a pair of similar vessels in the collection of the Percival David Foundation illustrated by R. Scott in Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art - A Guide to the Collection, London, 1989, p. 105, pl. 109. The David Foundation dishes and the current set are all of distinctive form with relatively deep rounded sides and sharply everted rims. They share the same treatment of the foot and although the David Foundation dishes bear a different mark to the current quartet, the marks are all written in overglaze iron red, in a single vertical line, in precisely the same style of calligraphy. The landscapes are different on all six dishes, but they are all painted in a similar style, which owes artistic debts to the Yuan dynasty painter Ni Zan, and to the late Ming literatus Dong Qichang. Each of the landscapes is painted in sepia overglaze enamel with small highlighting areas of iron red, in imitation of ink painting on silk or paper. The David Foundation dishes bear a mark reading Yayu Tang zhi, 'Made for the Hall of Gentle Rain'. This was the hall name of Lu Jianzeng (1690-1768), a scholar official, the highlight of whose career was his appointment as Chief Salt Commissioner of Liang Huai in 1737. For further details see: R. Scott, For the Imperial Court - Qing Porcelains from the Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, Singapore/London, 1997, p. 126. The David Foundation dishes may have been made around the same time as the publication of his collection of literary works by pre-Song writers (Yayu Tang congshu), in 1756. The current set of four dishes probably also dates to the mid-18th century.
The current set of four dishes includes one which unusually shows a snowy landscape. While snowy landscapes are regularly seen on Japanese porcelains, they are quite rare on Chinese ceramics. This one brings to mind the famous dated (AD 1700) blue and white vase in the Shanghai Museum bearing a depiction of the 5th century poet Lu Kai riding across a bridge followed by his servant who carries a prunus branch, which Lu subsequently sent hundreds of miles from Jiangnan to his friend in Chang'an. The current dish may even have been intended to evoke the same theme of devoted friendship.