The format of the decoration on the present vases, with three bands of decoration with flowers, pheasants and rocks, is a continuation of earlier versions of the shape decorated in the wucai palette. For an example of this earlier tradition, see a single, Shunzhi-period gu-form vase in the Shanghai Museum, illustrated by M. Butler, Q. Wang, Seventeenth Century Jingdezhen Porcelain: From the Shanghai Museum and the Butler Family Collections, London, 2006, pp. 168-169, no. 50, which is decorated around the top register with pheasants perched on rocks with peonies, above a band of pomegranates and a lower band of crabapple blooms.
Images of nature on Chinese porcelain often relay a message through their inherent symbolism. Jan Stuart explains the approach of “reading” the decoration on Chinese objects. She notes “… the Chinese verb that means “to look at” (kan) also means “to read.” This attitude is especially suited to painting and porcelain, the designs of which were closely allied with painting in late imperial China. A courtier who cooled himself with a painted fan savored the lyrical image, using it to bring to mind a favorite poem, experienced a similar reaction when sipping wine from a porcelain cup and “reading” the decoration to enjoy the literary, historical or cultural allusions imbedded in the design. Images of imperial authority, religious significance, and propitious wishes – especially for long life, good fortune and male progeny – dominate the repertoire of porcelain designs during the Ming and Qing dynasties” (L. Cort, J. Stuart, Joined Colors, Decoration and Meaning in Chinese Porcelain, Hong Kong, 1993, p. 33). On the present vases, the imagery of the pheasant with the peony forms the combination fu gui ji xiang, a wish for wealth (peony) and auspiciousness (pheasant). The inclusion of chrysanthemums and rocks add wishes for longevity.