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 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.
A Chinese porcelain blue and white small cylindrical sleeve vase, rolwagen, painted with a standing official holding a hu tablet, attended to by two boys, one presenting a jue, all within a continuous landscape scene with palm trees, plantain, ‘v’-shaped grass and rockwork, beneath the moon amongst clouds, with birds in flight, all between anhua scrolling bands, the gently waisted neck painted with branches of bamboo, orchid and prunus.
A Chinese porcelain blue and white deep bowl, thinly potted with upright sides, painted on the exterior in a continuous scene with three seated scholars amongst deer, scrolls and books, beside rock work and large pine trees, together with a scholar and attendant crossing a bridge and two cranes in flight, the well of the interior with two recumbent deer beside rock work and a large pine tree, in a mountainous river landscape scene beneath the moon and beneath an elaborate border with lingzhi and rock work.
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.
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.