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 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.
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 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.
Chinese ceramic green and amber glazed ingot-form pillow, zhen, moulded on the four sides with a quatrefoil reserve depicting four fish on an aquatic leaf ground, all reserved on an interlaced floral diaper ground within incised borders, the plain flat ends incised with a stylised flowerhead and a green glazed cross on an amber ground, one end pierced for the firing, the other with three original spur marks.
Chinese ceramic moulded sancai, three-colour glazed pillow, zhen, of rectangular form with concave headrest and flat sides, the top striped in green, amber and cream glaze with an incised double border, the wide ends with high relief camellia flowers on a continuous scrolling branch with leaves, the sides with flowerheads within a lozenge-shaped panel, all covered in a rich amber glaze, the smaller sides with spur marks, one with a small air hole from the firing, the base flat.
Chinese ceramic incised pillow, zhen, of ruyi-head form painted in brown on a cream glazed ground with camelia blooms on a scrolling branch with stylised leaves, all on a seed ground within a double-lined ruyi-head border, the sides with stylised floral scrolls, the gently concave base unglazed, pierced air hole in the back from the firing.
Large Chinese ceramic white and brown glazed inscribed pillow, zhen, of octagonal section, the gently concave top incised with a nineteen-character poetic verse flanked by incised foliage, the lip gently overhanging the flattened sides, covered in a rich cream glaze, the base predominantly unglazed with natural drip marks, the side pierced with an air hole from the firing.
Chinese ceramic green glazed monochrome pillow, zhen, of ruyi-head form, incised on the gently concave top with outlines following the form, with further incised lines beneath the sloping shoulder, the fluted body covered overall in a rich and even deep apple green glaze, the flat predominantly unglazed base revealing the buff-coloured body, with an air hole from the firing beneath the ruyi-head point.
Chinese ceramic Ding ware ingot-form pillow, zhen, moulded on the exterior, the gently sloping concave top incised and glazed in white with flowers forming a cash motif on a clear-glazed tan ground, each larger side with a relief recumbent stag between branches of buds, one side within a jewelled border, the other within a cross-hatched border, the smaller sides with stylised flowers, buds and leaves, the unglazed flat biscuit base pierced with an air hole revealing the high-fired body.
Chinese ceramic Ding ware cream glazed dish, pan, with flat base, short inverted foot and gently rounded sides, carved with a single lotus flower spray on a branch with leaves fitting neatly in the well with an incised outline, the flower and leaves with double and single outlines creating a three-dimensional effect, covered overall in a pale cream glaze gently pooling above the foot and creating a tear mark, the rim bound in copper.
Chinese ceramic Ding ware white glazed dish, pan, with gently flared unglazed rim, carved with a lotus flower spray and leaves in double and single outlines creating a three-dimensional effect, covered overall in a cream white glaze extending to the short foot rim and partially covering the base.
Chinese ceramic Jun ware lotus-bud form waterpot, jixin’guan, covered overall with a rich and even lustrous lavender sky-blue glaze, extending overall to the interior and the base thinning towards the light brown rim, all on a slightly splayed short unglazed brown knife-cut foot rim.
Chinese qingbai glazed box and cover, he, of melon form, fluted in twelve segments with naturalistic fold-over stalk, covered overall and on the interiors in a pale sky-blue glaze pooling in the folds, the base and rims unglazed revealing the high-fired white biscuit body, the rims of the cover and base each with an incised line to indicate correct alignment.
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.
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.
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.
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Chinese furniture, largely plain polished wood, sometimes inlaid with semi-precious stones such as lapis lazuli, mother of pearl or lacquered. Usually made from Hongmu, Jichimu, Zitan, Huang hua li, Ji chi mu or Yumu.