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 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.
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.
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.
A Chinese Yaozhou monochrome deep bowl with conical sides and upright ribbed rim carved on the interior with three chrysanthemum blossoms on a continuous single scrolling branch amongst large leaves, the underside plain, covered overall in an even olive-green glaze falling short of the unglazed biscuit foot rim revealing the high-fired stoneware body.
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.
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.
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.
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Objects of the aforementioned colour palette primarily identified by the use of a pink enamel.
Imari ware is a Western term for a brightly-coloured style of Arita ware, Japanese export porcelain made in Arita.