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
  • 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.

  • M5165

    £45,000

    Chinese imperial porcelain famille rose, fencai, “over the wall” bowl and cover, all painted with fruiting lychee branches and buds, around the sides and continuing over the rim, with sprays of bamboo and a butterfly, hovering on the interior and exterior.

  • 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.

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  • 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.

  • R1047

    £POA

    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.

  • 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.

  • R9955

    £18,500

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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.

Famille Verte from Private Collections

18 piece exhibition of Chinese famille verte porcelain, Kangxi period. 28th October – 12th November 2021.

Chinese Export

Objects made in China for the purpose of being exported to the West.