Rose medallion is one of the most popular types of Chinese porcelain found in traditional Western interior design. Antiques expert, Jessica Lev, is sharing the history behind this collection along with tips for identifying each of the three styles.
Collectors and interior designers alike have treasured Chinese export porcelain for decades, even centuries, and rose medallion is the most popular and prolific pattern of Chinese export porcelain. First seen in the 1850s, it is still in production today. The bright color palette and fanciful details add color and whimsy to any room, whether on bookshelves, walls, or tabletops. Characterized by a central medallion surrounded by alternating scenes of people at court and flora and fauna, the pattern can be found on anything from small plates and saucers to large vases and even garden stools. However, the name rose medallion has also become used interchangeably to refer to almost any famille rose porcelain. In this article, I’ll explain a little more about the nuances between the different famille rose patterns and also give guidance on how to date them.
Famille rose porcelain refers to the color ‘rose’ or pink. The pink flowers seen on famille rose pieces are actually peonies, not roses. Though famille rose pieces began to appear in the 18th century, the 19th century marked the rise of the popularity of the pieces, and when they began to be produced in large quantities. 19th century famille rose patterns can generally be broken down into three major categories: rose canton, rose mandarin, and rose medallion.
Rose canton patterns are those with only nature, most typically birds, butterflies, and flowers.
Rose mandarin patterns are those with only people: typically a large central family or court scene.
Rose medallion is a mix of the two: combining nature scenes with those with people. Mixing different patterns, shapes, and sizes is one of the most beautiful ways to display and develop a collection!
Tips for Dating Chinese Porcelain
The vast majority of famille rose that you come across will be modern vs. antique, as the rose medallion pattern has been continuously produced since its inception in the mid-19th century.
1) The vast majority of antique Chinese famille rose porcelain is unmarked. If you come across a
piece that’s signed, the likelihood is that is a reproduction. Alternately, the marking ‘China’
indicates a date of 1890-1915 and a marking of ‘Made in China’ indicates a date of later than
2) The oldest and finest pieces have gold leaf paint accents. If there is gilding in the hair of the
women, and gilded accents to the birds and butterflies.
3) While blue and white paint is ‘under-glaze’ and will not show wear, any ‘famille rose’ pieces will
have rubbing to the paint and decoration. Expect to see rubbing and wear to the paint, most notably in any gilding. If it looks perfect and like it was painted yesterday, it probably was!
4) Antique famille rose pieces have subtle variation in color—if the colors appear one dimensional, they are likely a reproduction.
Jessica Lev is the Antiques Expert for The Traditional List and has been a contributor since 2021. Other popular articles of her include:
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