Zen & the Arts - Field Notes

The Blue Willow Pattern – 1800’s


The Blue Willow Pattern, found in 19th century ceramic dishware, brings alive an ancient Chinese fairytale.

Long ago, in the days when China was ruled by emperors, a Chinese mandarin, Zuoling, lived in a magnificent pagoda under the branches of an enormous apple tree, shown near the center of the plate. The pattern is named for the willow seen drooping over a bridge, behind the graceful fence line. Zuoling had a beautiful daughter, Guangse, who he promised in marriage to an old but wealthy merchant. Guangse, however, fell in love with Zhang, her father’s clerk.

The pattern shows the lovers eloping across the sea to a cottage on an island. The mandarin pursued and caught the lovers and was about to have them killed when the gods transformed them into a pair of turtle doves. These doves are gazing into each other’s eyes at the top of the design.

A lengthy and old Staffordshire poem describing the pattern concludes with the verse:

“In the oft quoted plate two birds are perceived,
High in the heaven above:
These are the spirits of Zhang and Guangse,
A twin pair of ever in love”. 

Blue Willow China, in its present form originated in the United Kingdom (England) in 1790 by Thomas Turner at Caughley Pottery Works in Shropshire.


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