An usually large model of a mountain, decorated in enamels on the biscuit in the sancai palette of aubergine brown, yellow and green. The tall craggy peak is inhabited by figures, animals and small buildings, has prunus and pine trees growing up the mountainside. A path with steps curls round the mountain, leading through the open rocks and the pagoda’s. In several buildings there are also small figures present.
One small figure on this mountain, is that of a monkey wearing robes. This alludes to the famous Chinese story by Wu Cheng’en called Journey to the West. It tells the tale of Sun Wukong (The Monkey King), who goes to the sacred mountain paradise of the Queen Mother of the West. He wrecks her banquet by stealing most of the peaches of immortality. The story incorporates many Daoist elements, which would have appealed to the Chinese scholar-gentleman.
Mountains (shan) hold a special place in Chinese culture. From the late Zhou period (c. 1000 BC), the cult of immortals became increasingly important. Belief in a mythical land called Penglai - an imaginary mountain paradise inhabited by immortals - began from the 4th century BC onwards. It was believed that humans could also discover this paradise and as a result obtain the elixir of immortality.
This concept was later incorporated in Daoist ideology, who viewed the natural world in general and mountains in particular, as home of the immortals. They believed in the power of five Sacred Peaks, each located in one of the five directions - north, south, east, west, and centre - connecting heaven and earth. These are actually existent mountains in China, which have been places of veneration since ancient times. The peaks are: Hua Shan in Shaanxi (West), Tai Shan in Shandong (East), Heng Shan in Hunan (South), Heng Shan in Shanxi (North) and Song Shan in Henan (centre). What they each have in common is they are all wooded, which is a rarity in China. To communicate with the various deities on these mountains, Emperors ordered the construction of important Daoist temples on each summit. Daoists also believe that magical lingzhi mushrooms, that bestow immortality, grow on the slopes of these hills, where qi (universal energy) is most abundant.
Similar biscuit mountains can be found in The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (Inv. Nr. AK-MAK 592) and the Laura Collection (Italy). A smaller rockwork mountain in Famille Rose enamels is in the Swedish Royal Collection at Drottingholm Palace. A pair of such mountains are in the collection of Museo degli Argenti (Florence) and depicted in Bondy’s book.