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 porcelain blue and white Kraak saucer dish of petal-shape with eight lobes, painted in the centre with a standing dignitary and his attendant in an exterior scene beside the wall, beneath a willow branch and between rockwork and stylised clouds, encircled by panels of flowers and fruits including pomegranate and peach.
Chinese porcelain blue and white moulded Kraak saucer dish painted in the centre with a stylised flowerhead medallion with a bird perched on rockwork, amongst flowering camelia and other plants, encircled by ten petal-shape moulded medallions of aster between different panels of precious objects including scrolls and music stones.
Chinese porcelain blue and white moulded Kraak saucer dish painted in the centre with a grasshopper perched on rockwork amongst flowering camelia and daisies, encircled by ten petal-shape moulded medallions of aster between different panels of precious objects including scroll, leaf and gourd.
A Chinese porcelain blue and white Kraak kendi in the form of a seated elephant with its head raised, the pierced tusks forming the spout, with tall cylindrical flared handle for filling set on its back above a moulded ruyi-edged saddle, the saddle cloth with central ruyi-head with tassels, scrolls and cash diaper ground, with moulded tail, pendant tassels, the handle painted with a bird perched amongst prunus branches, the flat base unglazed.
Chinese porcelain blue and white Kraak saucer dish of petal-shape form with eight lobes, painted in the centre with two fishermen in boats and two scholars on a rocky promontory in a river landscape scene, with a seven-tier pagoda in the distance within a walled town, encircled by a border with ruyi-heads and ruyi-shape panels of the wheel of law and pendants, the underside with birds perched on branches and insects in flight.
Chinese porcelain blue and white and underglaze copper-red thinly potted shallow bowl, painted on the interior with a central flowering lotus plant with leaves, bud and arrowhead, surrounded by sprays of prunus, lily and chrysanthemum, beneath a single underglaze blue line at the rim, the exterior with two stylised branches beneath two rings at the rim, the base with a six-character mark of Xuande within a single ring.
Chinese porcelain blue and white ‘reticulated’ stem cup, the exterior painted with five chilong dragon medallions, set between wan-character fretwork, the background unglazed beneath a band of octagonal stylised flowerheads at the rim, and above crested waves, rockwork and pearls on the everted foot rim, the well of the interior with a leaping carp medallion amongst crested waves and flames, within two underglaze blue lines repeated on the inner rim, the base with a four-character mark of Chenghua within a double square.
Chinese porcelain blue and white octagonal bowl with pierced ‘reticulated’ roundels on each facet in pairs of honeycomb, wave, fretwork and cash, set within trapezoid windows, above a scroll and pearl pattern above a keyfret band, the interior glazed white, the base and foot rim unglazed.
Chinese porcelain blue and white small ovoid jar and a cover, painted with prunus flowerheads and petals on a cracked-ice ground, with triangular diaper on the shoulder and lappets on the edge of the cover, the underside with two rings in underglaze blue.
Chinese porcelain blue and white deep saucer dish with gently flared lipped rim, painted with two dignitaries and their attendants on a raised balcony above the wall of a city with a trio of musicians and an attendant leading a goat, all about to welcome the return of an accomplished official finally returning home, painted in different tones of blue, the pale washed wall with a fourteen-character poem.
Chinese porcelain blue and white fan-shaped box and cover, the three long sides painted with cranes in flight amongst clouds, the short side painted with a flowerhead and lozenge emblem, the cover with three Buddhist emblems amongst three peaches, the base with a three-character mark of Duli fu, ‘Superintendent’, in underglaze blue within a double rectangle.
Chinese porcelain blue and white wine ewer and cover, painted on the broad rounded body with leafy branches of flowering tree peony above ten gently moulded petals of similar branches of flowers, all beneath an upright gate-form handle with flower sprays, with pairs of leaves at the base of the handle, the spout with three flowering branches of aster, the cover with two peony flower heads and a prunus flower on the finial, the base glazed white.
Chinese porcelain blue and white minyao small dish with flat everted rim, painted in the centre with a four-clawed dragon amongst stylised flames within a double ring in underglaze blue, the border with swirling and crested waves with prunus flower heads, the underside with five previous objects including music stone, pearl and scrolls each tied at the ribbon.
Chinese porcelain blue and white circular box and cover painted overall with an intricate basket weave pattern intertwined with flowers on a blue washed ground, the interior plain, the base with a four-character mark of Xuande in underglaze blue.
Chinese porcelain blue and white large deep saucer dish of thickly potted form painted with a fabulous seated qilin amongst stylised flames, rockwork and plantain beneath the moon, all within a single line in underglaze blue and beneath a brown dressed rim, the underside plain with a wide channel foot rim, the blue of luminous tone. The base with an incised Chinese collector’s mark, da zhai (grand hall).
Chinese porcelain blue and white figure of Zhenwu, seated on a large throne with raised back, wearing an imperial dragon robe with armour at the shoulders and a flaming pearl on the skirt, flanked between his two standing generals, Wan Gong and Wan Ma, all on a raised oval plinth painted with a tortoise and snake amongst flames and lingzhi and above crested waves.
Chinese porcelain blue and white two-handled vase and cover, the vase of pear-shape form decorated on both sides with panels containing a figure in a fenced garden and auspicious objects, all within a flower-shape cartouche surrounded by lotus and prunus blossoms, all beneath a flower scroll border, the two handles decorated at the top with animal masks and at the bottom with a folded-over leaf, the wide and splayed foot decorated with a geometric triangular band, the base recessed and glazed white, the domed cover decorated with a cartouche containing four auspicious objects amongst four prunus flower sprays, the finial of pointed form.
A rare and large Chinese porcelain blue and white bowl painted on the exterior with a dragon and phoenix bird amongst stylised flames, waves and flower sprays, the interior painted with a bird perched on rockwork amongst flowers encircled by a wide band of different flower sprays beneath butterflies in flight, blue glazed washed rim.
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.