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 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.
A pair of Chinese porcelain blue and white small dishes, each painted with four figures seated in fishing boats, moored at a river bank, with two men in different boats playing rock paper scissors, bao jian chui, another man eating and a lady breast feeding, all beneath overhanging willow branches beneath cloud scrolls, mountains and the moon, all within a single ring, the underside with mountains and a viewing pavilion within a double ring in underglaze blue, the base with a six-character mark of Chenghua within a double ring.
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.
Chinese porcelain blue and white rectangular tea caddy and circular cover on four bracket feet, painted on the wide sides with vases and precious objects including a weiqi board, counter holder, books, censer and scrolls, the short sides with flowering branches, the flat shoulder with reverse technique flower sprays on a blue ground, the top of the cover similarly decorated.
Chinese porcelain blue and white and celadon glazed water dropper in the form of a three-legged toad, moulded with relief nodules covering the body, the chest with a brown glazed slip, the base unglazed.
Chinese porcelain blue and white fluted stem bowl painted on the exterior, foot, interior and underside with flowering blooms on branches amongst leaves, including hibiscus, chrysanthemum, peony and camelia, all beneath a petal lobed rim, the base with a lingzhi mark.
A Chinese porcelain blue and white and underglaze copper-red saucer dish, thinly potted with gently flared rim, painted in the centre with Damo seated on his long bamboo staff with his hands and legs tucked under his robes, beside his fly whisk, his head tilted down in contemplation, the edges of his robe, staff and fly whisk heightened in underglaze copper-red, all on a rich powder blue ground, the underside with two long branches of bamboo, the base with a lozenge mark within a double ring. 8 1/8 inches, 20.6 cm diameter. Kangxi, 1662-1722.
A Chinese porcelain blue and white and cafe au lait rose water sprinkler of double-gourd form painted with books, a censer and ribbon-tied chrysanthemum beneath a spray of morning glory and flowers, the shoulder with flowerheads above a crackled band and a wide cafe au lait band on the body.
Chinese porcelain blue and white bottle vase, ping, with globular body and tall slender cylindrical neck with gently flared lipped rim, painted in a continuous scene with a pheasant standing on rock work amongst flowering peony, magnolia and prunus branches with sprays of bamboo, grasses and other plants, the reverse with a butterfly in flight, all beneath a triangular diaper band at the rim.
Chinese porcelain blue and white tall beaker vase of gu form, painted on the upper section with seated scholars, two playing weiqi beside a wrapped qin and books, while another holds up a flower-form fan, with two other scholars, one kneeling while playing a qin between two others, one holding a letter, the other a fan, with an attendant close by bringing a covered box, three of the scholars’ robes with elaborate design, all amongst “v”-shape grass in a fenced continuous landscape scene with plantain, pierced rockwork, bamboo and a cloud bank beneath the sun, and between anhua bands of scrolling branch and a triangular diaper, the central band with blue ground lozenge panels painted in reverse technique with lotus flowers and branches and round medallions, above a band of leaves, the unglazed base revealing the biscuit body.
A Chinese porcelain blue and white brushpot (bitong) of cylindrical form, painted on one side with a standing fisherman holding a pole in the prow of a boat in a mountainous river landscape scene all within an enclosed rectangular panel, the other side painted with three bronze vessels, one with lotus flowers, surrounded by two auspicious objects, a weiqi board and a leaf.
A Chinese porcelain jardinière of deep ‘u’ form with slightly everted lipped rim, painted on the exterior in a continuous wide band in underglaze blue with prunus blossom on a crested wave blue ground, the interior white.
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.