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 kosometsuke large plate painted with Shoulao seated between seven immortals, all identifiable by their attributes, beside a bridge and between overhanging rocks with pine branches, encircled by a border with 39 mons, the underside with two pairs of lozenge and pearls.
Chinese porcelain blue and white kosometsuke octagonal deep bowl painted in the centre with two figures about to cross a bridge towards a viewing pavilion in a mountainous river landscape scene, beneath sprays of bamboo, prunus, pine and a vine on a flat everted rim, the underside plain with two lines above the foot, the rim and inner rim with mushikui (fritting).
Pair of Chinese porcelain blue and white kosometsuke small food bowls in the form of jardinières, each painted on the exterior with nine branches of bamboo beneath stylised leaves on the flat everted foliate rim.
A Chinese porcelain blanc de Chine Guanyin seated with her arms and legs concealed under the robes tied at the waist and extending to a folded cowl covering her detailed hair, with serene expression and urna mark on her forehead, wearing a single strand necklace, covered in a cream glaze.
A Chinese porcelain wucai, ko-akai plate with flat everted rim painted in the centre with Putai seated on an elaborate rug wearing a yellow and turquoise robe, between two cranes in flight and two lingzhi, underglaze blue and iron red ruyi clouds, encircled by further ruyi heads and clouds, the base with an underglaze blue ring with a mark that reads Tian Xia Tai Ping, "peace under heaven".
A Chinese porcelain blue and white small saucer dish painted with fishermen, one resetting the sail in a river landscape scene, between rockwork with pagoda, buildings and a flagpole, the reverse bank with a viewing pavilion, beneath the sun with birds in flight, encircled by an elaborate border painted with six white egrets, each standing in water beside a lotus leaf, between aquatic plants, the underside painted with five birds, each perched on branches with flowers.
Chinese porcelain blue and white reticulated pierced bowl, wan, the exterior painted with five medallions of river landscape, camellia, rockwork, peony and a building with a large opening beside a flagpole and rockwork, all between pierced cash-style devil's work ground, above a band of lappets and beneath a band of scrolls at the rim, the interior white, the base unglazed.
Chinese white ground vase of meiping form painted on the body with three freely drawn peony blooms on branches with leaves between bands, the high shoulder with three leafy branches beneath a double-ring at the neck, the base and foot unglazed revealing the buff stoneware body.
Chinese Longquan monochrome celadon glazed cosmetic box of circular form, the cover moulded in relief with a peony bloom on a branch with three leaves all within a single ring, covered overall in a luminous even pale celadon sea-green glaze, the box base plain with unglazed interior rim and base revealing the stoneware biscuit body.
Chinese Longquan monochrome celadon glazed deep dish with flat everted rim and tapered foot rim, applied in the centre with a relief moulded open-mouth writhing dragon with detailed scales on his body in a slightly recessed well, encircled by carved stylised flowers and scrolls with comb technique, the exterior moulded with thirty-five radiating relief lotus petals, the base covered overall in an even pale celadon sea-green glaze, the knife-cut biscuit foot burnt orange at the edges revealing the high-fired biscuit body.
A Chinese green lead glazed large lian, wine warmer and cover with two stylised relief mask and ring handles between two bands of three rings, standing on three bear feet, the animals with long ears, the moulded cover with a stylised bronze loose ring handle surrounded by two bands, one with dots and triangles, the other with a stylised scroll and dot pattern, the rim with band of petals, the base unglazed.
Chinese green glazed pottery model of a kneeling Middle Eastern figure with left knee raised, wearing a belted robe and holding a child, both wearing peaked hats, a large cylindrical oil lamp over the shoulder, the monochrome green glaze now iridescent due to oxidisation, the underside revealing the terracotta brick-red body.
Chinese monochrome green glazed pottery model of a circular ram pen with flat lipped rim, the interior with a shepherd with head turned, seated on a large saddled ram, amongst a flock of seven other standing rams, each with ridged curled horns, covered overall in an even green glaze now iridescent due to oxidisation.
Chinese monochrome olive glazed pottery jar of ovoid form with three double-loop handles at the shoulder, above an incised line beneath the upright rim, covered in a bright olive glaze continuing on the interior, falling short of the buff stoneware body and the slightly splayed foot.
Chinese sancai, three-colour glazed pottery equestrian group, with Central Asian male rider modelled with his hands raised to hold the reins, wearing a green glazed long jacket with chestnut lapels, his face unglazed and heightened in black, white and red pigment, with detailed paint to his hair and Phrygian cap, fu tou, also in black tied at the back, the piebald horse standing with the head turned to the left with ears pricked and green splashes on a cream ground with three-colour saddle cloth and chestnut hoofs, the base unglazed.
Chinese sancai, three-colour glazed pottery standing figure of a court lady wearing long flowing robes, her hands hidden beneath a loose stole covering her shoulders and draped at the front, the green, straw and chestnut glazes well-defined, the unglazed head and face with details heightened in black, pink and white original pigment, her hair tied in three buns at the back and knotted up in a chignon, also heightened with black and white pigment.
Chinese sancai, three-colour glazed pottery moulded dish of square form with a barbed rim, straight everted sides and flat base, moulded in relief with a central chrysanthemum flowerhead in a square medallion surrounded by four large leaves and encircled with eight flowerhead panels with leaf edges, all on a cream glazed ground, the rim glazed in chestnut extending to the reverse, the flat unglazed base revealing the pottery body with white slip.
Chinese Yaozhou monochrome celadon deep bowl with rolled rim and short straight footrim, carved on the exterior with stylised flowers and leaves, the interior with six vertical lines, covered overall in an even olive-green glaze pooling towards the straight foot, the foot rim unglazed revealing the burnt brown high-fired ceramic 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.