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.
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 saucer dish, painted in the centre with chrysanthemum, aster flowers and buds, beneath a six characters couplet, the underside with three pearls, the base with a four-character mark of Tianqi within a double ring in underglaze blue and of the period.
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 porcelain blue and white kosometsuke plate with flat everted rim, painted in the centre with three figures, carrying buckets of salt water in a landscape scene between viewing pavilions and beneath pine trees, all within five “C”-scrolls and all beneath a quarter of the rim, painted with flower heads and ruyi, the underside with lozenge and pearl.
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 Chinese bronze censer of bombé form with gently flared and flattened rim, raised on a slightly splayed tall foot, all between two high relief lion heads and densely curled mane handles, the exterior rim and base with an untouched original surface. The underside incised with an archaic style six-character mark Daming Li Daguan Zhi, Great Ming made by Li Daguan.
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.
Chinese porcelain blue and white kosometsuke incense burner modelled as a rectangular box, the cover with a reclining Buddhist lion splashed with fukozumi on the body, the raised rectangular plinth form base painted on the wide side in reverse technique with a flowerhead and scrolling branches on a blue ground, the ends with a precious double lozenge, all between double lines in underglaze blue.
Pair of Chinese porcelain blue and white vases and covers of meiping form, each painted with a pair of dragons ascending and descending in pursuit of flaming pearls amongst stylised ruyi-clouds and flames above crested waves, the lower register with a wide band of galloping horses above crested waves and rockwork, the high shoulder with four characters, yu tang jia qi, ‘precious vessel of the jade hall’, on a blue keyfret ground, all beneath a short neck with galleried rim, the flat covers with fu-character encircled by ruyi-heads.
Chinese porcelain blue and white hexagonal guan painted with six circular reverse technique medallions of open-winged cranes amongst ruyi-head clouds on a blue ground, all framed with ruyi-heads in the corners, beneath a band with three pairs of flowerheads including lotus, camellia and chrysanthemum between precious objects, all between a lappet band above the foot and a ruyi-cloud band at the rim, the base unglazed.
Chinese miniature bronze rectangular two-handled censer with sloping shoulder and flat demi-lune handles, the underside with a three-character mark of qin shu lü, companion of qin (musical instrument) and books.
Chinese bronze censer cast with a generous flaring rim with two relief mask handles each with a hairwork mane, all on three feet with ruyi-heads, the underside with a two-character mark, yun shang, ‘beyond clouds’.
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.