Mashed taters, chicken cutlet, green beans, doomed love

You’ve seen it, I’ve seen it, it’s shown in glass cabinets, hidden under sauces, or buried in the dirt of historical sites.

bw platter

A classic platter in willow pattern (Image source:

It’s got a pagoda, a fence, some pastorality, a boat. It’s a game of telephone played with pictures across a few centuries. You’d better believe it, it’s the Willow Pattern, and it is one of the most-seen images of the past few hundred years.

You might not’ve ever thought about it before. You might have never looked too closely at your grandmother’s plate collection, and their subtle variety. You might have even assumed that this famed icon of china was from, oh, I don’t know… China.


A set of willow pattern ceramics. Image source:

Nope. It’s unknown who designed the Willow Pattern, but it’s a toss-up between two English dudes from the late 1700s. If anything, the pattern’s an icon of Orientalism: wanna-be aesthetics on wanna-be porcelain.

It was even marketed with a wanna-be legend–two youngin’s in love, an accountant and a Mandarin’s daughter, who run away to be together and are ultimately murdered by the megalomaniacal Mandarin. The gods take pity, and transmogrify their corpses into birds (the story can be found in the form of a delightfully lulling tune by Momus). Yep–those two gallivanting doves you stared down during all those dull family meals–they’re lusty dead youth, transmogrified.

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