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 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.
Large Chinese Blanc de Chine, Dehua, group of a standing Guanyin with serene face looking down at a scroll in her hand while her other hand is tucked inside her long flowing robes, wearing a beaded necklace, which drape down toward her feet with her toes exposed, wearing a high cowl tucked behind a raised tiara with a seated figure, her hair neatly tied and incised, all beside her attendant holding a book with his other hand draped inside his sleeve, his head also graciously turning towards her, all standing on a pierced rockwork base.
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’.
Chinese porcelain blue and white moulded Kraak saucer dish painted in the centre with a stylised flowerhead medallion with a bird perched on rockwork, amongst flowering camelia and other plants, encircled by ten petal-shape moulded medallions of aster between different panels of precious objects including scrolls and music stones.
Chinese porcelain blue and white moulded Kraak saucer dish painted in the centre with a grasshopper perched on rockwork amongst flowering camelia and daisies, encircled by ten petal-shape moulded medallions of aster between different panels of precious objects including scroll, leaf and gourd.
A Chinese porcelain blue and white Kraak kendi in the form of a seated elephant with its head raised, the pierced tusks forming the spout, with tall cylindrical flared handle for filling set on its back above a moulded ruyi-edged saddle, the saddle cloth with central ruyi-head with tassels, scrolls and cash diaper ground, with moulded tail, pendant tassels, the handle painted with a bird perched amongst prunus branches, the flat base unglazed.
Chinese porcelain blue and white Kraak saucer dish of petal-shape form with eight lobes, painted in the centre with two fishermen in boats and two scholars on a rocky promontory in a river landscape scene, with a seven-tier pagoda in the distance within a walled town, encircled by a border with ruyi-heads and ruyi-shape panels of the wheel of law and pendants, the underside with birds perched on branches and insects in flight.
Chinese gold-splashed small vase of hu form with two mask handles between an incised keyfret band, all on a slightly everted foot with flat rim, decorated overall in bright gold splashes.
Chinese porcelain blue and white and underglaze copper-red thinly potted shallow bowl, painted on the interior with a central flowering lotus plant with leaves, bud and arrowhead, surrounded by sprays of prunus, lily and chrysanthemum, beneath a single underglaze blue line at the rim, the exterior with two stylised branches beneath two rings at the rim, the base with a six-character mark of Xuande within a single ring.
Chinese porcelain blue and white ‘reticulated’ stem cup, the exterior painted with five chilong dragon medallions, set between wan-character fretwork, the background unglazed beneath a band of octagonal stylised flowerheads at the rim, and above crested waves, rockwork and pearls on the everted foot rim, the well of the interior with a leaping carp medallion amongst crested waves and flames, within two underglaze blue lines repeated on the inner rim, the base with a four-character mark of Chenghua within a double square.
Chinese porcelain blue and white octagonal bowl with pierced ‘reticulated’ roundels on each facet in pairs of honeycomb, wave, fretwork and cash, set within trapezoid windows, above a scroll and pearl pattern above a keyfret band, the interior glazed white, the base and foot rim unglazed.
Chinese ceramic Yue ware olive-green glazed moulded vessel in the form of a chimera, bixie with raised head and open mouth bearing its teeth, the flanks with relief hairwork scrolls, the hairwork along its mane and back divided by the spine supporting a short cylindrical holder, with elaborate pleated tail and short recumbent legs.
Chinese pottery straw glazed ovoid jar and cover, guan, with four double-loop handles at the shoulder above an incised line repeated on the cover surmounted by a flat knop, covered overall in an even straw glaze falling short of the buff-coloured foot rim with a further incised unglazed line on the lower body, the interior covered in an olive-green glaze with three spur marks in the well.
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.