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
  • M4655

    £58,000

    Chinese imperial 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.

  • M4978

    £58,000

    Chinese imperial porcelain large saucer dish painted with five dragons, wu long, the centre with the forward facing gilt and iron-red five clawed dragon, its body encircling a flaming pearl between an ascending blue enamel dragon and a descending turquoise dragon, all amongst ruyi-clouds in rose, turquoise, blue and white enamels with stylized red flames and all reserved on a rich and even lemon-yellow ground, the underside with a pink dragon and a green dragon heightened in black enamel, all the dragons’ claws in white and on a similar ground between flaming pearls beneath the gilt rim.

  • M5375

    £38,000

    Chinese imperial porcelain large dish, brightly painted in famille rose, fencai enamels with bajixiang, the eight auspicious emblems, each ribbon tied and amongst eight different flowering branches in pink, blue, light blue, turquoise green, iron red, gilt, yellow, white and lime green enamels encircling a stylised central flowerhead with interlinked other flowers, all within a double gilt border, the rim with a wide band of pink ruyi-heads on a lemon yellow ground, the underside with three different flower sprays each on a leafy branch with other flowers and leaves.

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  • M5367

    £52,000

    Chinese imperial porcelain doucai bowl painted on the exterior with six different exotic blooms in iron red, yellow and aubergine with green edges on a dense ground of foliate stems with leaves in three different tones of green and heightened with yellow iron red and underglaze blue, all linked by delicate branches, the enamels outlined in underglaze blue above a band of ruyi-heads and beneath two lines in underglaze blue repeated on the foot, the interior plain.

  • M5227

    £28,000

    Chinese imperial porcelain saucer dish painted in the centre with a medallion of five bats, wufu, in iron-red within double line, encircled by a border of twelve bats in flight within a double line in underglaze blue, the underside with eight further open-winged bats in iron-red between double lines.

  • M5221

    £58,000

    A Chinese imperial porcelain doucai deep dish of ogee form, finely painted on the interior with the eight attributes of the Daoist immortals, anbaxian, each ribbon-tied in blue enamel, ruby enamel, yellow and iron red, amongst flower sprays, and within two pairs of underglaze blue rings, encircling a central mallow flowerhead, itself within an inter-linked profile branch of pendant, peaches and chrysanthemum, the underside with eight elaborate flowerheads painted in pairs on a dense floral ground with leaves in different tones of green and buds, all above a lappet and ruyi-head border.

  • M5095

    £35,000

    Chinese imperial porcelain fencai large thickly potted dish, finely painted with five-clawed iron-red and blue dragon on each side of a flaming gilt pearl, all amongst stylised ruyi-clouds and flames within a wide gilt band, the underside with an aubergine dragon and another iron-red dragon with two pearls amongst stylised clouds and flames.

  • 5. M4822

    £POA

    Chinese imperial porcelain famille verte, wucai saucer dish thinly potted with upright rim, painted with a standing lady with one arm tucked into her elegant ruyi-cloud patterned robes, beside a table with censer, bowl, books and a vase with two peacock feathers, with an iron-red openwork stool at her side.

  • M5120

    £35,000

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • M4567

    £25,000

    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.

  • M4658

    £60,000

    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.

  • M4569

    £25,000

    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.

  • 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.

  • M3292

    £POA

    A Chinese imperial cloisonné bottle vase with rounded body and ribbed cylindrical neck, the body decorated with stylised lotus flower heads amongst leaves and scrolling branches, beneath stylised peony flower heads and further lotus flower heads beneath the rim, all on a turquoise ground, two of the raised ribs with a dark blue ground, the foot with scrolls and jewels.

  • M3340

    £58,000

    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.

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

Famille Verte

Objects containing underglaze blue with enamels of red, green and yellow.

Paintings

Chinese paintings, typically gouche and watercolour.

Ming & Earlier

Objects from the Ming, Song and other dynasties.