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.
A Chinese porcelain blue and white thinly potted minyao bowl, with gently flaring rim painted on the exterior with eight shou characters dispersed between eight peaches in lingzhi shape panels, all on a dense lozenge diaper ground with lotus and peony flower heads above a band of interlaced lotus flower heads and lingzhi, the interior painted in the well with a peach medallion encircled by lingzhi, lappets and further interlocked pairs of lingzhi on a diaper ground beneath a rectangular flower head band at the rim, the base with a six character mark of Chenghua within a double ring in underglaze blue.
A pair of Chinese porcelain blue and white and underglaze copper-red small plates each painted with the three friends of winter, sanyou, with two birds in flight between a large prunus tree with small sprays of bamboo and pine needles, heightened in copper-red, encircled by a ‘cracked ice’ blue ground prunus flower head border, the underside with three branches of flowering chamellia, the base with a six-character mark of Chenghua within a double ring in underglaze blue.
A Chinese porcelain blue and white bottle vase, with rounded body and tall cylindrical neck and gently flaring rim, painted over all in ‘One Hundred Antiques’ decoration, including books, table screen, tripod incense burner, sceptor, weiqi board and counters, ribbon tied music stone, ribbon-tied leaf and pearl, wrapped qin, jue, fan, brush and axe, rings, vase with lotus flower and leaves and vase with peacock feathers and coral branch, ribbon tied cornucopia and ribbon tied leaf with water dropper. The base with a double ring in under glaze blue.
A pair of Chinese porcelain blue and white ‘Master of the Rocks’ large plates, each painted with a seated scholar on a rocky promontory in a mountainous river landscape scene, one with migrating birds, the other with a fisherman in his boat, each encircled by a wide continuous landscape border, with scholars, rock work, willow and houses, the underside of each with two bamboo branches, the base of each with a six – character mark of Xuande within a double ring in underglaze blue.
A pair of Chinese porcelain blue and white reticulated square form teapots and covers, each with openwork panels of wave fretwork and honeycomb, between four sided handles and spouts, all on diaper grounds, with mallow flower heads, all supported on four bracket feet.
A Chinese porcelain blue and white bowl with lobed rim painted on the exterior with twelve immortals in the clouds, all above a moulded band of lotus petals, each painted with a branch of flowers and foliage, the interior well with a further immortal holding a peach branch over his shoulder on a cloud bank below a wide band at the rim of cash heightened with blossoms all on a blue ground.
Chinese porcelain blue and white moulded and fluted deep bowl, wan, with foliate rim painted on the exterior with four equestrian huntsmen and hounds in pursuit of white hares, amongst rockwork and trees, above a relief petal band interspersed with lingzhi branches and precious objects on a key-fret ground, the interior painted in the well with a further equestrian huntsman encircled by lappets and precious objects, beneath a wide band of diaper wan characters.
Chinese porcelain blue and white, underglaze copper-red and white-slip-decorated celadon-ground rouleau vase, decorated with the “Eight Horses of Mu Wang”, each in a different pose amongst pine trees, wutong, rockwork and clumps of grass, the lip and interior glazed white, the base with an underglaze-blue double ring.
Chinese porcelain blue and white and underglaze copper-red basin painted on the interior with a large praying mantis on rockwork, beneath branches of prunus with a butterfly in flight above large leaves painted with a light blue wash, bamboo and daisy, all encircled within a double ring, the cavetto painted with flowering chrysanthemum and peony beneath prunus branches on the flat everted rim, the underside supported by a wide foot rim.
Chinese imperial porcelain blue and white, underglaze copper-red and celadon vase of club form slightly tapering towards the foot painted on each facet with a mountainous river landscape with houses, viewing pavilions, pine, wuti and incised celadon rockwork; two panels with fishermen, one beneath the moon, each panel within underglaze-blue double lines, the flat shoulder with sprays of prunus, lotus, bamboo and daisy with tall branches of bamboo, repeated on the tall flared cylindrical neck.
Chinese imperial porcelain blue and white palace bowl, wan, deeply potted with a gently flared rim, the exterior with five stylised lotus flowerheads on a scrolling branch, amongst arrow-head leaves, scrolls and foliage, all above a band of stylized lotus petals, the interior painted in the well with a lotus flowerhead amongst arrow-head leaves, scrolling branches and foliage encircled by five further flowerheads in the cavetto.
Chinese porcelain blue and white deep bowl, wan, with everted rim painted on the exterior with four scenes from Xi Xiang Ji, “Romance of the Western Chamber”; Zhang Sheng stopping at the monastery at night and asking if he could stay there; Zhang Sheng meeting Cui Yingying in the presence of her maid Hongniang, who are also at the monastery for the funeral of Cui Yingying’s father; Hongniang delivering messages to Cui Yingying from Zhang Sheng because her mother has forbidden them to meet; Cui Yingying's mother seated behind her attendant interrogating the kneeling Hongniang regarding the relationship between Zhang Sheng and her daughter, all beneath a diaper lozenge band, the interior painted in the well with five boys playing ball beneath a band of wan characters on the interior rim.
Chinese porcelain blue and white miniature shonzui type censer painted with three roundels of pine, willow and three birds in flight, all on three different geometric grounds of cash, wan character, and scales beneath a band of key fret, the inverted lipped rim with ruyi head scrolls on a blue wash ground.
Blue and white saucer dish painted with a prowling tiger standing with one foot on the edge of a rocky promontory beside pine branches issuing from rockwork beneath stylised clouds and the moon beneath a single underglaze blue ring, the underside with four stylised pearls and satellite dots.
A pair of Chinese porcelain underglaze blue and white miniature bottle vases painted on either side with flowerheads emanating from foliage on the ground, all between double rings at the foot rim.
Chinese porcelain blue and white baluster vase with single-ribbed neck and galleried rim, painted on the body with three qilins standing on rocks amongst billowing and crested waves and sea spray, with stylised flames being emitted from their mouths, the ribbed neck with bands of lappets, scrolls and ruyi-heads, all between crenulated bands above the foot and on the rim, the base glazed white.
A Chinese porcelain blue and white lobed teapot and cover, painted with four panels of river landscape scenes with pavilions, fisherman, pine tree, a viewing pavilion and birds in flight, with floral sprays on the spout and handle, the cover similarly decorated.
Blue and white saucer-dish painted with four horses in a field in various poses attended by a seated groom playing a flute, the underside with stylised branches.
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.