This shape of this plate is based on a European form, the painting style imitates European copper-plate engraving techniques and yet the narrative is purely Chinese, or perhaps not entirely Chinese but more specifically Buddhist. The complex relationship between the protagonists and the tiger, let alone the moral of the story would have been entirely lost on the target market for this extraordinary plate. But the strange, very foreign antics of these curious people with their tiger would have been of interest as a amusing vision of another world.
Pindola (Lohan) and the Tiger :
Pindola was a general but he was a devoted Buddhist so he could not kill. The King made him become a monk and he left for a monastery in the mountains where he could hear a tiger howling every day. He said that the tiger was probably hungry and should be fed some vegetarian food. Otherwise the tiger might become a man-eater. So Pindola collected food from the monks and put it in a bucket which he left outside the monastery. The tiger did come for the food every night. After a period of time, the tiger was tamed. Thus Pindola was referred to as the Taming Tiger Lohan.
Lohan (or Louhan) Arhat :
A Lohan is the Chinese word used for a Buddhist Arhat, one who has followed the Eightfold Path and has achieved deliverance of this earthly existence. These holy Buddhist monks attained a form of sainthood through quite but rigorous religious study and good deeds. Most were loyal disciples of the Buddha who were called on to carry the faith abroad. Originally there were 16 Lohan but the Chinese added two during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), however there were as many as 500 lesser lohan. They are often depicted as having Indian features and are rather indomitable-looking, usually they carry their own specific attribute. Lohans are well-known for their great wisdom, courage and supernatural power. Due to their abilities to ward off the evil, Lohans have became guardian angels of the Buddhist temples.
Chinese Soft-Paste Porcelain :
Jorg States “Chinese soft-pate porcelain, which is different from European soft-paste, originated about 1700 and became popular in the second quarter of the 18th century as part of the export assortment. Unlike ordinary porcelain, it is not translucent and often has a creamy-white appearance. The glaze is often finely crackled as a result of a difference in cooling between the glaze and the body. The later is made of a white-firing clay, called huashi, ‘slippery stone’, the use of which is documented in the reports of 1712 and 1722 by the Jesuit Pere d’Entrecolles. As the clay was expensive, soft-paste pieces are usually small and thinly potted. They are also well-painted, as the body is particularly suitable for detailed drawing. Besides this ‘true’ soft-paste, there are pieces with an ordinary porcelain body and a coating of ‘huashi’ clay, which gives the same effect”.