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.
Chinese porcelain blue and white fan-shaped box and cover, the three long sides painted with cranes in flight amongst clouds, the short side painted with a flowerhead and lozenge emblem, the cover with three Buddhist emblems amongst three peaches, the base with a three-character mark of Duli fu, ‘Superintendent’, in underglaze blue within a double rectangle.
Chinese small jade carving of a recumbent Buddhist lion with two horns and head turned back, holding in its mouth an openwork ruyi-cloud supporting a book, with upright trefoil tail, the four feet neatly tucked underneath, the stone pale celadon and slightly mottled on one side with russet hind quarters and tail.
A Chinese Blanc de Chine incense burner of archaic bronze lian form on three ruyi-head bracket feet, impressed with a central band of archaic animals on a liwen ground between horizontal ribs, covered in a white glaze.
Chinese porcelain Blanc de Chine brushpot, bitong, stoutly potted with gently everted sides, incised on the body with a nineteen-character poem and a four-character signature, covered overall in a rich and even cream glaze.
Chinese porcelain blue and white figure of Zhenwu, seated on a large throne with raised back, wearing an imperial dragon robe with armour at the shoulders and a flaming pearl on the skirt, flanked between his two standing generals, Wan Gong and Wan Ma, all on a raised oval plinth painted with a tortoise and snake amongst flames and lingzhi and above crested waves.
A rare and large Chinese porcelain blue and white bowl painted on the exterior with a dragon and phoenix bird amongst stylised flames, waves and flower sprays, the interior painted with a bird perched on rockwork amongst flowers encircled by a wide band of different flower sprays beneath butterflies in flight, blue glazed washed rim.
A Blanc de Chine figure of Laozi, seated with his arms crossed, resting on an armrest, with a scroll in his left hand, dressed in long robes, his face modelled with arched brows, bulbous nose and long incised beard and moustache.
Chinese porcelain wucai four-tiered square picnic box and cover with indented corners, the cover painted with five crane medallions amongst clouds, each side with two chrysanthemum blooms and foliage and each section interior with two orchids, three bases with a six-character mark of Chenghua in iron-red, the flat white biscuit base unglazed.
Pair of Chinese celadon glazed small vases and covers of guan form, each carved with flowerheads on a continuous scrolling branch amongst leaves above a wide lappet band with upright leaves and further flowerheads and scrolls on the shoulder, and beneath a triangular band on the gently flared neck, the covers with central raised flowerhead, again above a scrolling flowerhead band, the base glazed, the unglazed foot rim, rim and underside of the cover revealing the biscuit body.
Blanc de Chine figure of Pintoulo seated on a rockwork base, the turned head with detailed beard and eyebrows, hands clasped beneath the robes, covered in a cream glaze.
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.
Chinese Longquan celadon two-handled pear-shaped bottle vase, each side moulded with a ruyi-head medallion, one with fu and one with shou-character between leafy branches of flowering camellia, one issuing from waves, the other from rockwork, all between key-fret bands on the neck and everted foot, the upright rim in the form of an open flowerhead, above two stylised elephant-head and ring handles.
Chinese Longquan celadon fluted lianzi bowl, the exterior with tall upright petals, the interior with a flowerhead in the well beneath a carved keyfret band at the rim.
A Chinese green lead glazed standing figure of a dog, the head looking forwards with well defined eyes and pointed snout with whiskers, the ears pricked up, wearing a collar joining a harness, his tail curled over his back, the glaze covered with silver iridescence from burial.
Blue and white two handled tripod incense burner painted in a continuous mountain river scene, each side with two fisherman in boats heading towards viewing pavilions with a willow amongst rockwork beneath further viewing pavilions at the shoulder, birds in flight amongst stylised clouds and the moon, the interior of the handle painted with a yang symbol of three unbroken lines, the exterior of the handles with a single line beneath a dot, covered overall in a rich blue tinged glaze continuing on the interior, the rim and feet with mushikui.
Chinese porcelain blue and white small Kraak saucer moulded and thinly potted with a foliate rim, painted in the centre with a bird standing on rockwork looking up at a butterfly in flight beside an aster and beneath stylised clouds, surrounded by a panel border with fruits, books, flowers, a leaf and a scroll.
Chinese porcelain blue and white kosometsuke deep dish painted in the centre with a scholar crossing a bridge in a river landscape scene beside willow and overhanging rockwork beneath stylised clouds, encircled by moulded registers of lotus petals and large petals with stylised plum flowerheads dispersed between petals of wan characters, the underside with four registers of lotus petals, the base with a double ring in underglaze blue.
Blue and white moulded leaf shape dish on three bracket feet painted in the reverse technique in the form of a single leaf with central spine from which everted striped lines emit, painted with stylised water drops beneath a serrated edge.
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.