"Wheel of the Year" china pattern

by Diana Davies
(Los Angeles)

A Tettau (Bavaria) hand-painted plate (

A Tettau (Bavaria) hand-painted plate (

"Wheel of the Year" china pattern:- Many people recognize and respond to this pattern on a deep and sometimes unconscious level as it symbolically represents where we are and the circular nature of time. Time and direction are two concepts we have from observing the sky and our place in it over human history and every day. It would be hard to imagine life without this knowledge.

These days, when we look to convenient, secondary indicators like clocks, calendars, maps and compasses to organize ourselves in time and space, it's particularly important and satisfying to remember how we know about these concepts and that we each have direct, first-hand experience of the physical causes behind them every moment we are alive, experience we instantly turn to if the secondary indicators are unavailable.

"Wheel of the Year" celebrates this knowledge, and how we came by it, with a charming and dynamic graphic that transcends cultural and language barriers.

The "Wheel of the Year" pattern china is as popular as Blue Willow or Blue Onion and has been made by hundreds of companies in dozens of countries over the centuries, but as the examples are usually referred to by the individual manufacturer's name or the manufacturers' pattern names (Meissen, Wedgwood "Viking", Furnivals "Denmark", etc) or by regional names (Indisch Blau, Straw Flower, Imortelle, Blue Twig, etc.) it is very hard to research examples on the net, etc.

When the manufacturer is unknown, it's even harder. The search is complicated by the fact that many unaccountably mistake the pattern for "Blue Onion", although the two are entirely different apart from the blue and white coloring ("Blue Onion" is also an old Chinese pattern and actually pictures pomegranates).

The pattern has been made in porcelain, ironstone, earthenware, plastic, glass, paper, lithographed tin and enamelware. It is usually decorated in the traditional blue, but also in green (Royal Copenhagen and Mason's), red (Furnivals and Johnson Bros.) black (Johnson Bros) brown (Shenango and Meakin), etc. The three main ways the pattern was applied is by hand-painting (Royal Copenhagen, Meissen, etc.), transfer (Furnivals "Denmark, Gustavsberg "Alva" ,etc.) or stencil (Villeroy & Boch, Egersund Norway, Boch Freres, etc.).

The pattern is a classic Wheel of the Year design (a universal motif in some form or another in all cultures; the American Indian Medicine Wheel for example) basically a calendar or map of our planet's orbit, with the center rayed circle being the unrelenting sun and the rim of the plate being the cool path of our watery earth as it passes counter-clockwise through the four seasons ticking off the days (sometimes represented by flutes) passing the two solstices and two equinoxes (the cross bars) as it rotates around the circlular path of its orbit.

many versions the earth's path is strewn with clouds. These are represented by "lace" in the Royal Copenhagen and other versions, molded scallops or swirls (Bing & Grondahl's "Traditional" or Meissen), a drawn or transferred line representing fluffy clouds against a cobalt sky (Allerton's "Stockholm" and Furnival's "Denmark" are examples), a scalloped rim etc., etc. The sun is centered with a lingzhi blossom, the food of the Chinese Immortals. (The lingzhi blossom, The Immortals and the Sun are all used in Chinese symbolism to represent all that is eternal.) Some assume that the flowers centered on each season would have originally been the Chinese floral symbols for the seasons: Plum/Winter Peony/Spring, Lotus/Summer and Chrysanthemum/Autumn, but that may not be the case. All in all though a very pretty and satisfying pattern, not to mention scientifically correct!

When the pattern is applied to a three-dimensional shape, a teapot or jug for example, the rayed sun usually encircles the base, the seasons form panels on the sides and the path of the earth circles the top opening.

"Wheel of the Year" was the most admired of the Chinese export patterns in the 18th century. When Europeans began making porcelain, this is the pattern they made. Meissen was possibly the first to make this pattern outside of China.

Here is a little history from Royal Copenhagen's web site,
"...The pattern originated from China and has been used in a multiplicity of variations by porcelain factories all over the world... The pattern is admired for its vigor and timeless qualities...

When Europe reinvented the old Chinese secret of making porcelain in the early 1700s, many European princes took pride in establishing their own porcelain factories, and this old Chinese pattern migrated from one factory to another.

When the Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Manufactory was established in 1775, its founder, Frantz Henrich Müller, adopted it too. The young enterprise tried its hand at this decoration first, and the identification number printed on the bottom of each piece is therefore No. 1. It became popular immediately, has never gone out of fashion, and has been the most sought-after of the Royal Copenhagen dinner services ever since."

I've been working on assembling an image gallery of examples of this pattern together with the manufacturers' names and marks, but maybe someone out there has already done this. Let me know if you have :-)

porcelainbiz.com has many fine examples of this pattern pictured including this Meissen plate:



Reply to "Wheel of the Year" china pattern

By Peter (admin)

Hi Diana

Many thanks for telling us about your research on this classic pattern.

Anyone stumbling upon this page and feel you can add to Diana's work, please do not helitate to post.


Peter (admin)

Comments for "Wheel of the Year" china pattern

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by: Kent Hudson

I am researching the Strawflower pattern and found your article. I have tried to validate your statement that this pattern was a very popular Chinese import china pattern, but have not been able to find any documentation for this statement. Was this pattern imported from China? Also, cannot find any other reference using the name "Wheel of the year" pattern. Can you please give your sources for this statement?

by: Diana

I apologize Mr Hudson, I just now saw your comment when I was notified about a second comment.

Please see the quote from the Royal Copenhagen website contained in my post to answer your question about China being the country of origin for this pattern. It came to Europe as an import.

"Wheel of the Year" is the standard, descriptive name for this design, whatever form it takes, not just the familiar blue and white flowered china. The design exists, in some form, in every culture.

Thank you annmariapeter for your comment.

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