Ming & Earlier
Perhaps the most well-known of all Chinese ceramics, Ming dynasty porcelain benefitted from China’s return to Han Chinese rule in 1368 after 97 years of the foreign Mongol-led Yuan dynasty. As the internecine struggles abated, Ming pottery flourished in the world-famous ‘porcelain town’ of Jingdezhen and beyond.
Out were the old tastes of Song dynasty monochromes and in were the new appetite for Ming dynasty blue and white porcelain. Not without coincidence, the desire for Ming dynasty ceramics was exacerbated both by China’s economic upturn in the fifteenth century as it shifted towards a market economy and at the same time the European renaissance led to thousands of pieces of spectacular Ming porcelain making their way from China to become prized possessions in Europe’s royal palaces and stately homes.
As Ming dynasty porcelain continued its journey of refinement, there were significant innovations that became benchmarks in the rich and detailed history of Ming pottery including jihong under the Xuande emperor (a blood-red glaze of which it is believed there are fewer than 100 remaining examples in museums), doucai (contending colours) under Chenghua, jiaohuang (yellow glaze) under Hongzhi and wucai (five colour) under Wanli. It was also during the reign of Wanli (1572 – 1620) that production techniques, including mixing kaolin clay and pottery stone in equal proportions enhanced the whiteness of the vessel body, enhancing Ming dynasty blue and white porcelain.
Two Chinese standing unglazed pottery figures, one of a warrior with an open jacket holding a shield, the other of a civil officer wearing an official hat with his hand clasped beneath his long flowing robes, tied in a bow at the collar, each with finely detailed facial features, the robes with original terracotta colour, white and black pigment, with wood stand.
A pair of Chinese pottery large unglazed models of equestrian archers, one with his right arm raised to hold the bow and his left arm pulled towards his chest to hold the arrow, the other with his left arm raised to hold the bow and his right arm pulled towards his chest to hold the arrow, each seated on a painted animal skin saddlecloth, one with black dots on a white ground, the other with white dots on a black ground, the horses with open mouths, pricked ears and trimmed manes, each archer with expressive and concentrated facial details with a long beard and moustache, all with original pigmentation in terracotta colour, white, black, pink, all on a rectangular base.
A very fine Chinese unglazed pottery, fully caparisoned standing horse with splayed saddle cloth and material folded over, with tassels suspended from his neck, wearing bells on his chest and twelve packs on his hind, all with finely painted original pigment in red, terracotta colour and black, the eyes and bridle particularly well detailed, standing four square on a rectangular base, with wood stand.
Chinese porcelain blue and white kosometsuke saucer-dish painted with four horses in a field, one galloping, one standing, one with head turned and one recumbent beside a seated groom playing a flute amongst grass sprays, all within a single line in underglaze blue, the reverse with stylised branches, with recessed base and unglazed biscuit foot rim.
Chinese porcelain blue and white and underglaze copper red kosometsuke plate, painted with four fishermen in their boats amongst four copper-red fish in a river landscape scene with birds in flight beneath a large willow tree, the underside with stylised pearls.
Chinese porcelain blue and white kosometsuke deep plate with everted rim, painted in the centre in vivid blue tones with a fisherman standing at the stern with the rectangular sail open, with rock work in the foreground and a two-tiered pagoda in the distance beneath the moon, with an unusual lappet border in the form of a flower, the underside with sprays of branches.
Chinese porcelain underglaze blue and white fishbowl painted in a continuous cloud-covered scene, with sixteen boys in groups of four, at various playful pursuits such as; flying kites, playing weiqi, gathering lotus flowers and playing with puppets, in a fenced garden, divided by banana plant, pine and fruiting and flowering trees, most issuing from taihu rocks.
A Chinese white jade peach-shaped openwork pierced belt plaque, intricately carved with an open mouth dragon in a lozenge shape frame amongst scrolls and branches, the scales of the dragon minutely incised, all within a peach-shaped flat edge border.
A Chinese large gold-splashed bronze vase and cover of archaic zun form, the four-sided body cast on each facet with a wide relief-band of taotie masks on a key-fret ground, between handles cast with mythical animal heads and set with a mask handle on one facet, above eight stylised masks on the splayed foot repeated on the neck and cover, all between flanges, the cover surmounted by a curved knop, the underside with a four-character mark of ‘dan er bu yan’ (distant yet courteous).
A Chinese porcelain blue and white kosometsuke circular blue and white saucer dish, painted with three fish swimming amongst aquatic plants, above stylised waves, beneath the moon, the top half of the dish with seven stylised aquatic plants, the underside glazed celadon, the base recessed and glazed white.
A Chinese imperial porcelain blue and white small saucer dish, painted in the centre in luminous vivid tones, with three scaled mythical animals including a qilin, a monkey headed qilin and an elephant headed animal, together with a tiger and a dragon emerging from rockwork beneath ruyi clouds, with a pine branch, other plants, rockwork and flowerheads, encircled with a continuous border of a lotus pound with pairs of geese, ducks, cranes and other birds amongst lotus flowers, leaves, arrow heads and aquatic leaves, the underside with six branches of pomegranate, hibiscus, persimmon, morning glory, peach and another flowering branch. Japanese wood box.
A Chinese porcelain blue and white kendi of elephant form with upright handle beneath the wide flanged blue glaze rim, painted with a saddle cloth with wan characters and central cash tied around the neck and hind quarters with hanging ornaments, the handle painted with prunus branches and rockwork, with a slightly raised flower-head band on its back, the upright head with detailed ears and eyes, with trunk form spouts, the detailed tail also in relief, the base unglazed.
A set of three Chinese porcelain ko-akae, wucai, polychrome lozenge shape dishes with foliate flutted rims, each painted with a seated figure of Budai, resting against his long staff holding a necklace in his right hand and the edge of his treasure sack, beside the edge of rocky promontory with an overhanging pine tree beneath iron-red cloud within an iron-red border, the rim dressed brown. The base with a two characters mark of Taiping within a double rectangle,
A Chinese porcelain ko-akai, wucai, square dish, painted in the centre with a crosshatch design of different polychrome grounds including key-fret, cash, tile, scale and chainmail dispersed between iron red flower heads of lotus, prunus and camellia, encircled by a band of butterfly and insects beneath a flat everted rim, painted with crested swirling waves, the chamfered corners with pendent flowers.
A Chinese porcelain blue and white kosometsuke plate, painted in the centre with a rabbit with his head turned upwards in white on an underglaze blue roundel, encircled by four different geometric grounds including key-fret, cash, chainmail and scales, divided by a cross, each terminating with a pair of cions, all beneath a blue ground boarder, on a scrolling ground, the underside with flower heads and scrolls.
A Chinese cloisonné enamel bowl of conical form, with flat base, bronze flattened rim and foot rim, decorated on the exterior with the bajixiang, eight Buddhist emblems above eight lotus flower heads, all on scrolling branches with leaves in red, yellow, white, blue, green and black on a turquoise ground, the base similarly decorated with a single lotus flower and bud, the interior with two registers, each of the eight lotus flower heads on scrolling branches with leaves on a white ground encircling a blue Tibetan Sanskrit character on a white ground in the well of the interior.
A large and heavy Chinese gold splash bronze tripod censer with upright openwork handles, slightly waisted neck and rounded flat rim, covered with bright gold splashes on its untouched ground.
A large Chinese porcelain fahua vase of guan form, carved in relief with Shoulao seated holding a ruyi sceptre beside an attendant fanning the flames of a censer, all between a deer and crane, in a continuous landscape scene with the Eight Immortals each holding their various attributes between pine trees, rockwork and a large cloud bank, beneath a ruyi-head band at the shoulder enclosing the bajixian, the eight precious objects, all between lappet borders, the neck with lingzhi cloud sprays, the entire exterior heightened in turquoise, yellow and pale aubergine on a deep, rich aubergine-blue ground, the interior covered in a green glaze, the unglazed base with green splashes, the biscuit revealing the body.
Further information on Ming & Earlier
Early Ming dynasty ceramics took inspiration from the intricate but busy Islamic styles of the outgoing Yuan Mongols but it wasn’t long before the Han started to exert their own influences on design. From the 15th century onwards, Ming porcelain decoration became more subtle and restrained but as demand grew from Japan and Europe, it once again became more elaborate. It was one of China’s major exports and was often exchanged for Spanish silver. By the sixteenth century, Ming dynasty porcelain included vibrant colours such as blues, reds, greens and yellows.
By the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, it was becoming increasingly common for producers of Ming pottery and Ming porcelain to add imperial reign dates to their wares and there started a trend for artists to sign their wares. A signature on a Ming vase of one of the most highly respected Ming dynasty porcelain artists could dramatically affect its price, such was the reputation of some of the artisan craftsmen of the era, not unlike the European painters of the day.