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.
Large Swatow deep circular dish painted in turquoise, black and iron-red enamels with a large central scene of the ‘split pagoda’, with mountains in the distance, figures crossing a bridge and boats, all above three pagodas on rockwork, surrounded by four ruyi-head flaming medallions of fisherman, two with figures crossing a bridge, one with a fishing boat with one of the fisherman holding a net and the other with a boat in a river scene, between four four-character iron-red seals within a double square, the underside plain, the base and foot rim with sand grit.
Large Swatow deep circular dish painted in turquoise, black, iron-red and green enamel with gently everted rim, painted in the centre with a barefoot artist wandering in a landscape holding a branch supporting a long-tailed bird, with a rucksack of scrolls and gourd, a further rolled scroll sits on an easel extending from his rucksack, all beside a deer, rockwork, bamboo and beneath a large chrysanthemum, encircled by a lappet band of flowers and branches, the cavetto painted with four large lobed reserves, two with birds perched amongst aster and camellias and two with lotus flowerheads, all between chilong dragon roundels on an iron-red diaper ground of cash and cross-hatch, the underside plain, the base and foot rim with sand grit.
Blue and white saucer-dish painted with four horses in a field in various poses attended by a seated groom playing a flute, the underside with stylised branches.
A Chinese sancai (three colour) small pottery model of a standing cockerel the head looking forwards, covered with splashed green, chestnut and straw glaze, falling short of the lower section and revealing the buff pottery.
A wucai hexagonal deep dish with indented brown washed rim, painted in the centre with a lotus pond, a heron stands beside flowering lotus, leaves and aquatic plants with a bird in flight, within a moulded panelled border of six aquatic creatures, fish, toad, terrapin, shrimp, snail and crab on different diaper grounds, sealmark fu (happiness) within a double square.
Blue and white incense container and cover, kôgô, moulded in the form of a three-legged toad, the cover forming the top half and head of the animal all decorated in reverse technique with prunus flower heads on a speckled blue ground, the lower section with three feet similarly decorated, the interior glazed, the base and edges unglazed, burnt red in the firing, the tail, nose and mouth with mushikui.
Blue and white tea bowl of cylindrical form on a tall foot, painted with two pairs of characters ji xi "fortune and happiness" in stylised octofoil lotus flower head reserves on cash and scale diaper grounds beneath a band of scrolls at the rim and above two blue lines on the foot, the rim with mushikui.
A Chinese porcelain kosometsuke waterpot in the form of twin peaches, with stalk and foliage in relief, painted with four butterflies on a key-fret ground, the three biscuit feet of butterfly form.
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.