Blue & White
Practically speaking, Chinese blue and white porcelain is contrived using a blue pigment from cobalt oxide. It creates designs on clean white clay which is glazed and fired at high temperatures, but the history of blue and white Chinese pottery is much more poetic.
Blue and white ceramics hold a special significance in the rich and varied history of China’s pottery industry and the origin of the famous blue gained recognition during the Tang dynasty (618 – 907). However it wasn’t until the Mongolian-ruled Yuan dynasty (1279 – 1368) that the production techniques of what has become antique blue and white stoneware reached maturity.
As the Silk Road trade route flourished, cobalt ores were imported from Persia and were an extremely expensive and scarce commodity used only sparingly, hence why blue and white China antique vases, bowls and plates are highly desired by collectors, both for their beauty and their scarcity.
The Yuan artisans took extraordinary pride in their work because it had a mythological, almost religious element, the Yuan mythical animal large charger in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (collection number EAX.1707) is a classical representation.
Chinese blue and white porcelain has always been highly prized, often reserved for diplomatic gifts and special occasions.
Chinese imperial porcelain blue and white deep circular dish, the well of the centre painted in reverse technique with a boy holding a branch of peony flowers amongst stylised scrolling foliage on a blue ground roundel under a band of blossoms and stylised scrolls, the exterior painted with flower branches.
A Chinese porcelain blue and white kosometsuke circular blue and white saucer dish, painted with three fish swimming amongst aquatic plants, above stylised waves, beneath the moon, the top half of the dish with seven stylised aquatic plants, the underside glazed celadon, the base recessed and glazed white.
A Chinese imperial porcelain blue and white small saucer dish, painted in the centre in luminous vivid tones, with three scaled mythical animals including a qilin, a monkey headed qilin and an elephant headed animal, together with a tiger and a dragon emerging from rockwork beneath ruyi clouds, with a pine branch, other plants, rockwork and flowerheads, encircled with a continuous border of a lotus pound with pairs of geese, ducks, cranes and other birds amongst lotus flowers, leaves, arrow heads and aquatic leaves, the underside with six branches of pomegranate, hibiscus, persimmon, morning glory, peach and another flowering branch. Japanese wood box.
A large Japanese porcelain Kakiemon blue and white octagonal lobed deep dish, painted in the centre with a bird perched on a branch of bamboo amongst bamboo leaves and roots, encircled by eight lobes, painted in pairs with pine and bamboo branches, fruits and other branches, each with cash styled ground beneath a brown dressed rim, the underside with plum blossom on a continuous scrolling leafy branch, the glazed base with five spur marks from the firing. The white glaze fine biscuit foot rim revealing the body. Japanese wood box.
A Chinese porcelain blue and white kendi of elephant form with upright handle beneath the wide flanged blue glaze rim, painted with a saddle cloth with wan characters and central cash tied around the neck and hind quarters with hanging ornaments, the handle painted with prunus branches and rockwork, with a slightly raised flower-head band on its back, the upright head with detailed ears and eyes, with trunk form spouts, the detailed tail also in relief, the base unglazed.
A pair of Chinese porcelain blue and white square flasks and covers each painted with four different scenes, probably from the story of Yang Yi and her family, Yang Jia Jiang Yanji, with scenes of her in full armour on horseback, holding two swords aloft and going into battle while another army flees, another with her meeting a general, another of ministers meeting a general, and a further scene with her seated in formal military attire at a table while her soldiers bring in a prisoner naked to the waist with his hands tied behind his back, all within triangular diaper borders, with a wan character ground at the shoulder, and flowering branches on the neck, with different matched covers, one with key-fret and fish panels, the other with lozenge and ruyi heads, the finials with a fu character, good fortune. The unglazed bases revealing the biscuit body with recessed glazed square centres, each with a ribbon tied leaf mark in underglaze blue.
Pair of Chinese porcelain blue and white wine ewers, each with rounded globular body, tall cylindrical tapered neck, with a relief flanged beneath the mouth and a dragon-head handle, painted with lobed lozenge form floral reserves amongst flower heads between similar borders, the neck with similar reserves on a net form ground, the handle with blue glazed open mouth dragon head and scrolling branches, terminating in a large leaf. The flat bases on glazed revealing the smooth white biscuit body.
A Chinese porcelain blue and white ball form fluted teapot and cover, painted with six panels of vases and baskets of flower holding lotus, prunus, morning glory and aster, with large rabbit beneath a bamboo form upright gate handle and bamboo form spout, the cover with flower sprays and rockwork, executed in the same linear fashion.
A pair of Chinese porcelain blue and white hexagonal dishes with lobed petal-shape rims, each painted with a white dappled horse leaping above crested and swirling waves amongst flames and prunus flower heads, the underside similarly decorated with a band of waves all between underglaze blue double lines.
A Chinese porcelain blue and white kosometsuke plate, painted in the centre with a rabbit with his head turned upwards in white on an underglaze blue roundel, encircled by four different geometric grounds including key-fret, cash, chainmail and scales, divided by a cross, each terminating with a pair of cions, all beneath a blue ground boarder, on a scrolling ground, the underside with flower heads and scrolls.
A Chinese porcelain blue and white kosometsuke plate with flat everted rim, painted in the centre with three figures, carrying buckets of salt water in a landscape scene between viewing pavilions and beneath pine trees, all within five “C”-scrolls and all beneath a quarter of the rim, painted with flower heads and ruyi, the underside with lozenge and pearl.
Chinese porcelain blue and white kosometsuke incense burner modelled as a rectangular box, the cover with a reclining Buddhist lion splashed with fukozumi on the body, the raised rectangular plinth form base painted on the wide side in reverse technique with a flowerhead and scrolling branches on a blue ground, the ends with a precious double lozenge, all between double lines in underglaze blue.
A pair of Chinese porcelain blue and white large ovoid ginger jars and covers, each painted with four different panels, two of landscape and two with the bogu tu, ‘100 antiques’, one vase with two landscape panels with scholar and attendant crossing a rocky promontory in a mountain river landscape scene, the other with a single scholar crossing a rocky promontory in a mountain river landscape scene with viewing pavilion and buildings beneath mountains and birds in flight and a scene with addition of a fisherman in his boat, the ‘100 antiques’ panels including vases of archaic gu form holding peacock feathers, censers, wrapped qins, ruyi-sceptres, weiqi board, rings, music stone, scrolls, books and precious objects, all on a rich blue floral cash ground between ruyi-lappets painted in reverse with white flowerheads on a blue ground, beneath a keyfret band at the shoulder, the covers with bogu tu with different bands at the rim, one with a ruyi-band, one with a fruit and floral band, each beneath a crenellated band.
Chinese porcelain blue and white lotus form teapot and cover, one side with a fisherman seated in his boat, the other with a scholar seated on a rocky promontory in a mountain river landscape scene, between relief lotus leaf petals painted with flowers, the spout set on another petal panel painted with a fisherman in his boat beneath birds in flight, and the handle set on a further panel with river landscape scene, the cover with relief lotus pods amongst flowering branches.
Pair of Chinese porcelain blue and white vases and covers of meiping form, each painted with a pair of dragons ascending and descending in pursuit of flaming pearls amongst stylised ruyi-clouds and flames above crested waves, the lower register with a wide band of galloping horses above crested waves and rockwork, the high shoulder with four characters, yu tang jia qi, ‘precious vessel of the jade hall’, on a blue keyfret ground, all beneath a short neck with galleried rim, the flat covers with fu-character encircled by ruyi-heads.
Chinese porcelain blue and white pierced openwork small cup painted with five Buddhist lion circular medallions, all on a intricate cash form openwork ground between bands of scrolling foliage at the rim and above a band of lappets at the foot, glazed on the interior, the base unglazed.
Chinese porcelain blue and white bitong of gu form painted with flared neck and relief ribbed body, painted on the top register in a continuous scene with flowering prunus branches and birds, one perched on the branch, the other in flight, with a large open-winged butterfly amongst other plants with a spray of large leaves, bamboo and grasses, the raised middle band with a continuous scrolling branch above lappets and leaves, the base unglazed.
Chinese porcelain blue and white brushpot of slender gu form with flared neck and gently everted foot, painted with a seated scholar on an oval floral rug, raising his left hand while holding a wine cup while his attendant pours the wine from the ewer, beside wine jars and food container and a large screen, in a continuous landscape amongst rockwork, bamboo, grass, wutong and branches, divided by cloud banks, the central raised band with two branches of scrolling flowering lotus above a band of leaves, the base unglazed.
Further information on Blue & White
During the early Ming dynasty (1368 – 1644), the supply of cobalt oxide from Persia was briefly halted due to foreign trade restrictions and a locally-mined cobalt was used. It’s high concentration of manganese resulted in a softer, more pale blue and it continued to be used all the way through the reigns of emperors Xuande, Chenghua and Zhengde through the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.
It was also at this time that smalt cobalt – achieved by mixing cobalt oxide with molten glass and brought to China by Zheng He’s maritime expeditions – was used to create stunning blue and white Chinese pottery. It resulted in brilliant blues visible in the glazed surfaces of blue and white china antique plates, blue and white china antique vases and blue and white china antique bowls.
As was their wont, the desirability of what has become antique blue and white stoneware was largely dependent on the tastes of each emperor. The fifth Ming emperor Xuande enjoyed Mineral Blue (shizi qing) from Jiangxi province mixed with Muslim Blue (huiqing) from predominantly Central Asia. This generated a deeper purplish-blue tone while the favoured blue and white Chinese porcelain of the ninth Ming emperor Chenghua used the locally-sourced cobalt with high concentrations of manganese, resulting in a paler hue for the blue and white ceramics produced for his Imperial court.