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 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.
Pair of Chinese porcelain blue and white ovoid tea caddies and covers, each painted in a continuous scene with ladies standing in a garden each holding a branch, one with an attendant carrying a wrapped qin, all amongst rockwork, fencing and plantain, the covers with boys, each base with a four-character mark of Chenghua.
Chinese porcelain blue and white hexagonal guan painted with six circular reverse technique medallions of open-winged cranes amongst ruyi-head clouds on a blue ground, all framed with ruyi-heads in the corners, beneath a band with three pairs of flowerheads including lotus, camellia and chrysanthemum between precious objects, all between a lappet band above the foot and a ruyi-cloud band at the rim, the base unglazed.
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.
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 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.
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.