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 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.
A pair of Chinese porcelain blue and white ovoid jars and covers each painted with four chrysanthemum flower head medallions between bands of demi flower heads and scrolls on a blue ground, the covers painted with a stylised mallow flower head above a similar blue band repeated on the neck.
A pair of Chinese porcelain rouleau vases with cylindrical body, high shoulder and galleried rim, each painted with two rectangular panels enclosing Zhang Qian seated on his dragon-form log raft delivering a scroll to a lady at the window of a raised building, the reverse panel with a pair of geese amongst rockwork and reeds looking up at another in flight between the water’s edge, the sides with fan and lozenge shaped panels of plants, shrimp and a white hare, all on a rich luminous powder blue ground.
Blue and white tea bowl of cylindrical form on a tall foot, painted with two pairs of characters ji xi "fortune and happiness" in stylised octofoil lotus flower head reserves on cash and scale diaper grounds beneath a band of scrolls at the rim and above two blue lines on the foot, the rim with mushikui.
A Chinese porcelain kosometsuke waterpot in the form of twin peaches, with stalk and foliage in relief, painted with four butterflies on a key-fret ground, the three biscuit feet of butterfly form.
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.