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As we get into late spring, I wanted to share some pictures of a particular kind of flowers I have always wanted in my garden—single peonies! I think they are so elegant and joyous, yet I have never planted one, because there is just not a sunny spot. We can still bask in their radiant beauty though through digital images.
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This year I have finally obtained a peony despite my reservations, but, sadly it isn’t one of the single peonies I like (they are called that, not because they are incompetent at today’s baffling and duplicitous internet dating scene, but because of the single row of petals around their stamens). They seem to combine the best features of roses, jonquils, and poppies all in one flower.

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Chinese blue and white kraak dish, Wanli (1573-1619), flying birds and flowering peonies in a rocky landscape with  border roundels of peach and misc flowers.

Chinese blue and white kraak dish, Wanli (1573-1619), flying birds and flowering peonies in a rocky landscape with border roundels of peach and misc flowers.

Peonies are a favorite flower of Chinese gardeners.  The flower has been cultivated there since before the dawn of history and it bears the title “huawang”, king of flowers, (as well as the equally lofty name “fùguìhuā” flower of riches and honor).  Thriving in Northern China and the Yangtze Valley, the peony is a symbol of love, affection, good fortune, beauty, and riches. The flower’s appeal is extremely broad.  In China, the peony is the consummate representative of the season of spring (summer is represented by a lotus; fall by a chrysanthemum; and winter by the wild plum).

Chinese blue and white kraak, Wanli (1573-1619), a peony emerging from rockwork

Chinese blue and white kraak, Wanli (1573-1619), a peony emerging from rockwork

Because the peony represents such universally esteemed ideals, it is a symbol which can be found everywhere in Chinese art.  As May ends, this year’s peony season is swiftly passing away, but to remember the beautiful king of flowers, here are 3 Ming dynasty platter-bowls which feature peonies which have survived unblemished for centuries.  The first two are Wanli Kraaks–pieces which were made in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century–possibly for export.  The final piece is older and rarer: it is a Yongle reign platter made at the turn of the 14th & 15th centuries for a domestic patron.  Look at how beautiful and elegant the brushstrokes are in comparison with the more hastily produced later work.

Charger with two Peony Blossoms Early 15th century (Yongle Reign)

Charger with two Peony Blossoms Early 15th century (Yongle Reign)

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