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History and Use of Chinese Porcelain Footbaths

Posted by on August 12, 2014 . 0 Comments.

Chinese footbaths originated in China in the Ming Dynasty.  Originally, the footbaths were Blanc de Chine, a type of white porcelain made in the Fujian province. The area along the Fujian coast was traditionally one of the main ceramic exporting centers extending in historical range from the Song Dynasty to present.  Blanc de chine, along with hand painted porcelains in Blue and White, Rose Medallion, Famille Rose, Chinese Imari and Canton patterns, and other porcelain was made and decorated exclusively for Chinese footbaths for export to Europe and later to North America.  Large quantities of this Chinese Export Porcelain were exported beginning as early as the 16th century and continued well into the 20th century.

The size, around 16” long, and shape of the footbath are also traditional. This size may seem small for use in bathing ones feet, but foot baths were traditionally used only by the women of the wealthiest families.  These families practiced the custom of “foot binding”.  Originated among upper-class court dancers during the 10th or 11th century  in Imperial China, but spread during the Song Dynasty and eventually became common among all but the lowest of classes. Foot binding became popular as a means of displaying status and was correspondingly adopted as a symbol of beauty in Chinese culture. Also known as Lotus feet, the ideal length was about 3”, called the Golden Lotus. As early as 1664 the Emperor tried to ban foot binding but it failed.  In the 1800s, the Chinese reformers challenged the practice but it was not until the early 20th century that foot binding began to die out, partly from changing social conditions and partly as a result of the lifelong disabilities for most of its subjects.

It was not until the 1980s that an exporter began shipping the traditional footbath shape.  Now hand painted in all the popular export designs, the interior of many would also include the painted carp that was so popular for the exported porcelain fish bowls.  Interior designers and savvy home decorators embraced the design, and no well designed home in the 1980s and 1990s was without a footbath, especially when Asian influence was at its peak.  Exporters also began shipping larger and smaller sizes, as well as designs with ormolu applied.

Even today, no shape works better for the dining table or sideboard.  The oval shape is perfect to minimize the space used and you are sure to find a pattern that will accent your décor.  It is a wonderful container for fresh flowers or potted plants, but looks just as wonderful alone.  We suggest adding either the low or high leg rosewood stand to further enhance your footbath.  A silk tassel tied around the top of the bowl also adds another layer of style and a splash of color. 

Please check out our selection of Footbaths in the Home Décor category.  All footbaths and stands are 10% off through September 30 with free shipping.

Last update: September 01, 2014

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