The earliest known underglaze copper red ceramics were made in the north-western Chinese province of Shaanxi during the Tang dynasty (618 – 907) and perhaps not uncoincidentally, it was also a starting point of the legendary Silk Road.
The production of underglaze copper-red ceramics continued through the Yuan and Ming dynasties but working with copper oxide as the colouring agent was notoriously difficult.
Firing underglaze copper-red ceramics requires precise heat control, atmospheric conditions and air circulation within the kiln as well as careful preparation of the pigment itself. There was no guarantee of the final colour of the vessels being fired, therefore the success rates of underglaze copper-red ceramics was typically low, hence why pieces today command such high prices.
Pair of Chinese porcelain celadon-ground blue and white and underglaze copper-red slip-decorated vases of rouleau form, each painted with two deer between a crane in flight, the reverse with a pine tree amongst rockwork and fruiting lingzhi beneath clouds and the moon, the rim, interior and base glazed white.
Chinese porcelain blue and white and underglaze copper-red large deep saucer dish with gently flared rim, painted in the centre with a crab encircled by four carp and a mandarin carp, with shrimp and shell amongst a shoal of copper-red fish and guppies, with aquatic plants, arrow heads, leaves and roe, all within a single underglaze blue line, the underside and base glazed white with a wide channel foot rim.
A Chinese porcelain small tea jar with ovoid body and short flared mouth, painted in underglaze blue and copper-red with two sections divided by double rings, the upper with poem in underglaze blue and seals in copper-red, the lower with flowering plants in copper-red and underglaze blue, the base unglazed.
A pair of Chinese porcelain blue and white and underglaze copper-red small plates each painted with the three friends of winter, sanyou, with two birds in flight between a large prunus tree with small sprays of bamboo and pine needles, heightened in copper-red, encircled by a ‘cracked ice’ blue ground prunus flower head border, the underside with three branches of flowering chamellia, the base with a six-character mark of Chenghua within a double ring in underglaze blue.
Chinese porcelain blue and white and underglaze copper-red basin painted on the interior with a large praying mantis on rockwork, beneath branches of prunus with a butterfly in flight above large leaves painted with a light blue wash, bamboo and daisy, all encircled within a double ring, the cavetto painted with flowering chrysanthemum and peony beneath prunus branches on the flat everted rim, the underside supported by a wide foot rim.
Chinese imperial porcelain blue and white, underglaze copper-red and celadon vase of club form slightly tapering towards the foot painted on each facet with a mountainous river landscape with houses, viewing pavilions, pine, wuti and incised celadon rockwork; two panels with fishermen, one beneath the moon, each panel within underglaze-blue double lines, the flat shoulder with sprays of prunus, lotus, bamboo and daisy with tall branches of bamboo, repeated on the tall flared cylindrical neck.