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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 Blanc de Chine Guanyin seated on a raised rockwork throne, wearing long robes extending to a cowl, resting her hand on her raised right knee, wearing a jewelled necklace and elaborate floral scroll tiara, covered in a cream glaze.
Blue and white deep dish moulded in the form of a chrysanthemum flower head, on three short cabriole feet, painted with a mountainous river scene, the centre with two fishing boats sailing between a two tier house beside rockwork, the other bank with a viewing pavilion in the distance and the single peak of a tall mountain in the distance beneath the moon, a double line border at the petal edge, the underside white and ribbed with a thick blue tinged glaze, the edges with mushikui.
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.
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.