Imperial

To tell the story of Imperial Chinese porcelain is in some ways to tell the story of China itself. Fascinating, vibrant, richly varied and a beautiful artform that has beguiled, intrigued and captivated the rest of the world for millennia.

Chinese Imperial porcelain, often known as Imperial ware in China (Guan yao), is porcelain specifically manufactured for the Chinese emperor and the Imperial household. The first Imperial kiln was founded during the second year of the Ming dynasty (1369) in Zhushan (Pearl Hill) in the southern city of Jingdezhen.

The official kilns making Imperial Chinese porcelain in Jingdezhen were established in the fourteenth century and pieces of Chinese Imperial porcelain produced at the factory were marked with an official nian hao, or reign mark. The marks were applied to the pieces by a very small number of highly specialised craftsmen, some of whom spent their entire working lives painting the same nian hao.

Available Pieces
  • M5120

    £32,000

    Chinese imperial porcelain yellow glazed bowl of deep form thinly potted with gently flared rim, covered overall in a rich and even yellow glaze.

  • R1085

    £65,000

    A very large Chinese imperial porcelain “hundred bats”, baifu, charger painted with iron-red bats in flight amongst fencai stylised ruyi-head clouds in purple, turquoise, blue and yellow enamels, all within a gilt band at the rim, the underside similarly decorated above a gilt band at the foot and beneath an iron-red line at the rim.

  • R1047

    £68,000

    A Chinese porcelain Ming imperial yellow saucer dish with slightly flared rim, covered on the front and underside with a rich yellow glaze, the base with a six-character mark of Zhengde within a double ring and of the period, 1508-1521. 17.6 cm, 7 ¼ inches diameter. Zhengde, 1508-1521.

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  • M4790

    £28,000

    Chinese imperial porcelain copper-red glazed saucer dish covered overall in a rich and even bright red glaze beneath a white-glazed rim.

  • M4517

    £23,000

    Pair of Chinese imperial porcelain small yellow glazed thinly potted saucer dishes, each covered overall in an even yellow glaze extending to the base. 4 1/4 inches, 10.8 cm diameter. The bases with six-character marks of Guangxu and of the period, 1875-1908.

  • R9991/3

    £15,000

    Pair of Chinese imperial porcelain small yellow ground saucer dishes, each incised in green and aubergine with two five-clawed dragons in pursuit of a flaming pearl amongst stylised flames and clouds, encircled by six branches of peach flowers and fruits, the underside of each with two dragons between lingzhi branches. 4 1/4 inches, 10.8 cm diameter. The bases with six-character marks of Guangxu and of the period, 1875-1908.

  • R9955

    £15,000

    Chinese imperial porcelain saucer dish painted on a yellow ground and incised with a green and aubergine five-clawed dragon encircling a flaming pearl amongst stylised clouds and flames, the underside with aubergine grapes and green leaves on a yellow ground extending to the base. 5 1/4 inches, 13.3 cm diameter. The base with a six-character mark of Tongzhi and of the period, 1862-1874.

  • M4714/5

    £20,000

    Pair of Chinese imperial porcelain bowls of almost conical form, each painted on the exterior in fencai, famille rose enamels with butterflies in flight amongst flowering daisy and camellia above grass, the interiors glazed white, the rims with traces of original gilding. 6 1/8 inches, 15.5 cm diameter. The bases with six-character marks of Tongzhi in underglaze blue and of the period, 1862-1874.

  • M4511

    £25,000

    Pair of Chinese imperial porcelain yellow ground bowls with gently flared rims, each incised and painted on the exterior with two green five-clawed dragons in pursuit of flaming pearls amongst stylised flames and ruyi -head clouds, above a band of ruyi -heads and beneath a band of scrolling foliage, the well of each interior incised with a shou -character medallion within a double ring. 3 15/16  inches, 10 cm diameter.

  • M4542

    £28,000

    Pair of Chinese imperial porcelain saucer dishes, each painted on a yellow ground and incised with a green and aubergine five-clawed dragon encircling a flaming pearl amongst stylised clouds and flames, the reverse incised with cranes in flight between ruyi-head clouds on a yellow ground extending to the base. 5 5/8  inches, 14.3 cm diameter. The bases with six-character marks of Guangxu and of the period, 1875-1908.

  • M4566

    £58,000

    Chinese imperial porcelain yellow ground saucer dish incised in the centre and painted with a green and aubergine five-clawed dragon in pursuit of a flaming pearl amongst stylised flames, within a double aubergine ring, the underside decorated with grapes and leaves also on a yellow ground extending to the base. 5 1/4 inches, 13.3 cm diameter. The base with a six-character mark of Qianlong within a double ring and of the period, 1736-1795.

  • M4567

    £23,000

    Chinese imperial porcelain saucer dish painted on a yellow ground and incised with a green and aubergine five-clawed dragon encircling a flaming pearl amongst stylised clouds and flames, the underside with aubergine grapes and green leaves on a yellow ground extending to the base. 5 1/4 inches, 13.3 cm diameter. The base with a six-character sealmark of Jiaqing and of the period, 1796-1820.

  • M4658

    £35,000

    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. 7 inches, 17.7 cm diameter. The base with a six-character sealmark of Daoguang in underglaze blue and of the period, 1821-1850.

  • M4569

    £18,000

    Chinese imperial porcelain saucer dish painted on a yellow ground and incised with a green and aubergine five-clawed dragon encircling a flaming pearl amongst stylised clouds and flames, the underside with aubergine grapes and green leaves on a yellow ground extending to the base. 5 1/8 inches, 13 cm diameter. The base with a six-character sealmark of Daoguang and of the period, 1821-1850.

  • M4636

    £POA

    Chinese imperial porcelain thinly potted deep bowl with gently flared rim, covered on the exterior and interior with a bright copper-red glaze slightly pooling towards the foot, the rim glazed white.

  • R9952

    £30,000

    Chinese imperial porcelain saucer dish painted on a yellow ground and incised with a green and aubergine five-clawed dragon encircling a flaming pearl amongst stylised clouds and flames, the underside with aubergine grapes and green leaves on a yellow ground extending to the base.

  • M4537

    £58,000

    Chinese imperial porcelain thinly potted yellow ground green dragon bowl, incised on the exterior with two five-clawed dragons in pursuit of flaming pearls, amongst stylised clouds and flames, above a band of interlocked ruyi-heads and beneath a single scroll branch with leaves, the interior carved in the well with a shou -character, within a double incised ring in green glaze.

  • M4644

    £POA

    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.

Further information

Over the centuries, the royal court generated massive demand for Chinese Imperial porcelain, now highly collectable antiques. Imperial China had main palaces and residences and the royal princes had subsidiary regional courts. There were also many regional temples that required Imperial ware. In China, each household rank was entitled to a very specific collection set out in a written list. The last of which was produced in 1899 and specified that:

The Empress Dowager Cixi received 821 pieces of Imperial yellow Chinese porcelain, the Empress received 1,014 pieces, a concubine (first rank) received 121 pieces of Imperial yellow Chinese porcelain with a white interior and a concubine (second rank) received 121 pieces of Imperial yellow Chinese porcelain decorated with green dragons.

As more and more Imperial ware from China made its way into international collections, especially the cobalt blue designs from the Ming dynasty, Chinese Imperial porcelain developed a major influence over the world’s most famous design houses, most notably Delftware from the Netherlands.

The Kangxi Emperor (1661 – 1722) revived the Imperial Chinese porcelain factories in Jingdezhen after a 60-year period of dormancy. Under his reign, and of his successors Yongzheng and Qianlong, the Imperial Chinese porcelain factories flourished. Not only did they take inspiration from their predecessors, they combined it with amazing developments in production techniques to make exceptionally high quality Imperial ware. China, for example, led the way in the development of many of the techniques still in use today, including the development of opaque overglaze enamel colours that allow artists to create a much broader range of shades and hues.

You should also check

Blue & White

Blue & white pieces, synonymous with Chinese porcelain.

Blanc de Chine

Objects from the Ming and Qing dynasties made in Dehua County, Fujian Province, all with a white-glaze.

Tang

Objects specifically from the Tang dynasty.