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 saucer dish painted with an open-mouth dragon emerging from swirling clouds with a dragon fish, hailong, looking up from crested waves, all within a double ring and beneath a wave and flowerhead band at the rim, the underside with four dragon headed fish, hailong, emerging from crested waves between double lines in underglaze blue, the underside with a six-character mark of Chenghua within a double ring in underglaze blue.
Chinese porcelain blue and white kosometsuke octagonal deep bowl painted in the centre with two figures about to cross a bridge towards a viewing pavilion in a mountainous river landscape scene, beneath sprays of bamboo, prunus, pine and a vine on a flat everted rim, the underside plain with two lines above the foot, the rim and inner rim with mushikui (fritting).
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 base with a four-character mark, yu tang chang chun, jade hall and eternal spring.
Pair of Chinese porcelain blue and white kosometsuke small food bowls in the form of jardinières, each painted on the exterior with nine branches of bamboo beneath stylised leaves on the flat everted foliate rim.
Chinese imperial porcelain blue ground iron-red dragon saucer dish with gently lipped rim, painted in the centre with a Ming-style five-clawed dragon on an underglaze blue crested-wave medallion encircled by two pairs of double lines, the underside with nine small dragons depicted in a variety of positions on a crested-wave ground beneath a band of flowerheads.
Chinese porcelain blue and white large dish with flat everted rim, painted with a large wicker-work basket of flowers including prunus, peach flower, chrysanthemum, magnolia, peony and hydrangea on a stand with ruyi-head feet, beneath an upright gate-form bamboo handle tied with a ribbon at the top, the underside with branches of camellia, peony and prunus.
Chinese porcelain blue and white circular plate with slightly everted rim, painted in the centre with a scene from the Romance of the Western Chamber, within a double ring, the rim with four panels, each of three peaches, reserved on a diaper ground, the underside with two mountainous river scenes.
Chinese porcelain blue and white and underglaze copper-red large deep saucer dish with gently flared rim, painted in the centre with a crab encircled by four carp and a mandarin carp, with shrimp and shell amongst a shoal of copper-red fish and guppies, with aquatic plants, arrow heads, leaves and roe, all within a single underglaze blue line, the underside and base glazed white with a wide channel foot rim.
Chinese imperial porcelain blue and white deep dish thickly potted with gently flared rim, painted on the interior with three elderly immortals discussing their age, while standing on a rocky promontory beside their attendant and a deer, beneath overhanging rockwork and pine branches, looking out towards a sea house, with a crane in flight delivering a bamboo strip of longevity into the receptacle in the window, thus extending the lifespan of the immortal by one hundred years, the underside painted with islands and a fisherman.
Chinese 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 small saucer dish painted with fishermen, one resetting the sail in a river landscape scene, between rockwork with pagoda, buildings and a flagpole, the reverse bank with a viewing pavilion, beneath the sun with birds in flight, encircled by an elaborate border painted with six white egrets, each standing in water beside a lotus leaf, between aquatic plants, the underside painted with five birds, each perched on branches with flowers.
Chinese porcelain blue and white reticulated pierced bowl, wan, the exterior painted with five medallions of river landscape, camellia, rockwork, peony and a building with a large opening beside a flagpole and rockwork, all between pierced cash-style devil's work ground, above a band of lappets and beneath a band of scrolls at the rim, the interior white, the base unglazed.
Chinese imperial porcelain blue and white jue stand on four bracket feet, modelled with a central ‘mountain’ decorated on the sides with rocks and billowing waves with a peach and leaves on the flat top, encircled by four cranes in flight amongst ruyi-head clouds, beneath a flat everted rim painted with triangular diaper, the underside with stylised lotus flowerheads and scrolling branches.
A Chinese porcelain small tea jar with ovoid body and short flared mouth, painted in underglaze blue and copper-red with two sections divided by double rings, the upper with poem in underglaze blue and seals in copper-red, the lower with flowering plants in copper-red and underglaze blue, the base unglazed.
A Chinese porcelain blue and white pear shaped slender bottle vase with tall cylindrical flared neck painted with flowering branches and bulge in the centre painted with bamboo, all within double lines, the body with a continuous fishing scene with two seated fishermen at a riverside, conversing over a meal of fish on a platter, a wine pot and cover with two cups, all beneath a willow tree emerging from rock work, continuing with a scene of a lady in a boat moored at the riverside, holding a baby, who looks at the stove.
Chinese porcelain underglaze blue and white large dish painted with four figures in a walled garden scene with a building to the right, the underside with three ruyi designs.
A pair of Chinese porcelain blue and white vases of double gourd form, painted on each section with lotus flower heads on scrolling branches and leaves, divided by a triangular diaper band repeated beneath the upright rim, the wide unglazed biscuit foot revealing the body.
Brushpot, bitong, of cylindrical form painted with the Daoist immortal Lü Dongbin resting on rocks beside two wine jars with a seated willow tree spirit, Liushu Jing, on a fallen tree trunk playing a flute, all beneath the moon, amongst bamboo, rockwork and cloud banks in a continuous scene between anhua bands, the base unglazed revealing the dense white biscuit body.
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.