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Jingdezhen [Jiangxi Province, China]

Four Pagodas pagodas: c.1800-3, mounts: c.1816–18

Porcelain painted in underglaze blue, famille rose enamels and gilt, with additions in enamelled pottery, mounted in gilt bronze | 518.0 x 104 x 87 cm (whole object) | RCIN 1

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  • These four colossal Chinese towers, festooned with golden bells, fish and kylin dogs and topped with snake-entwined arrow-heads piercing winged dragons, might be said to represent the apogee or high point of the taste for chinoiserie in England. Their already exceptional size was further increased by the addition in England of their finials and bases, designed to fit them to the proportions of the Music Room at Brighton Pavilion, where the ceiling rose to a height of 41 feet [12.5 m]. They stood with two others of the same size against the window piers, while a slightly smaller pair was placed on either side of the chimneypiece on similar bases. In the Music Room, which was decorated under George IV's direct supervision by Frederick Crace, pagodas could also be seen in the picturesque wall panels painted by Lambelet, and in the red-japanned decoration of the door panels.

    In eighteenth-century European art and architecture the pagoda was perhaps the most universal symbol of the Orient. Ivory and porcelain models were exported from China to the West, and William Chambers built a full-sized English version in the royal garden at Kew in 1762, based on his own first-hand study of Chinese architecture a dozen years earlier.

    These two pagodas consist of ten diminishing hexagonal tiers of Chinese famille rose porcelain with eight curving and protruding roofs, on a hexagonal blue-and-white porcelain base bordered with 'bamboo' mouldings. Three of the round-headed doors of each stage are open, and each stage is bordered by a pierced porcelain balustrade. The Chinese porcelain elements were supplied by the dealer Robert Fogg, who also provided the metal additions in four diminishing sizes. The 'dolphins' at the angles may have been copied from those that survive in porcelain on the smaller pair of pagodas. The kylins seem to have been loosely modelled on those which appear, rendered in gold over underglaze blue, on the porcelain 'walls' of each stage. Fogg's invoice for '192 Bells, or Molu for the large Pagodas / 192 Dolphins for - do - / 216 Dogs for - do - ' does not exactly match the number of each type of ornament that was required for the four large pagodas, viz.: 216 bells, 192 dolphins and 224 kylins. Fogg charged 5s. 6d. for each of the bells, and 4s. 6d. for the dogs.

    The hexagonal plinths are made up of six large rectangular panels of Spode porcelain, printed in cobalt blue with a fret pattern against a sponged ground. Each side is inset with two scenes painted on porcelain, probably copied from Chinese export watercolours. Spode made similar bases and lamp-holders for a set of Chinese Imari jars, also for the Music Room at Brighton. For the four pagoda bases Spode was paid £305 17s. 6d. The remaining elements of the overall cost of £2,004 18s. 10d. were £1,406 paid to B.L. Vulliamy for the gilt bronze mounts of the bases and the finials, and £159 1s. 4d. to Henry Westmacott for the 'blue scagliola double plinths'.

    The Vulliamy family specialised in making and repairing clocks. From the 1790s, they produced bronze and gilt bronze objects of the highest quality. Often their role would be one of assembling parts made by different craftsmen, some of whom were directly employed by the family firm.

    In the 1840s the pagodas were transferred from Brighton to Buckingham Palace, where they were recorded in 1855.

    Catalogue entry from Royal Treasures, A Golden Jubilee Celebration, London 2002 and Chinese and Japanese Works of Art in the Collection of Her Majesty The Queen: Volume II.

    Acquired by the Prince of Wales, George IV. Two large pagodas (& two lesser) brought from China in 1804 by Dr J.J.Garrett; 'two extra large, elegant China pagodas 9 feet [274.3 cm] - [£]210' & '2 Do. Do. less – [£]100’ (Royal Archives GEO/MAIN/25156). Later 2 further large, Robert Fogg; from whom bought by George IV, 1817.

    Recorded in the Music Room, the Royal Pavilion, Brighton (1829B, p. 36); transferred to Buckingham Palace for the furnishing of the new East Wing, March 1847 (1829A, p. 35) and placed in the Centre Room.

  • Medium and techniques

    Porcelain painted in underglaze blue, famille rose enamels and gilt, with additions in enamelled pottery, mounted in gilt bronze


    518.0 x 104 x 87 cm (whole object)

    17' 0" (whole object)

  • Place of Production

    Jingdezhen [Jiangxi Province]