Generally speaking, the metal, stone, wood, and ceramic bowls made throughout Asia over the last several hundred years are simpler in shape and decoration than vases of the same period. That's because bowls are more purely functional than vases, meant to hold foods such as noodles or soup, designed primarily to be used rather than admired. Which is not to say their forms cannot be beautiful, as anyone who has eaten out of a steep-sided, bullet-shaped bowl or a wide, footed saucer knows.

Ceramic bowls range from porcelain to red clay. Glazing treatments include intricately decorative and pictorial compositions featuring dragons, lions, flowers, fruits, and gourds. Others are virtuoso exercises in color, be it a classic celadon container, a copper-red orb accented by a white lip wrap, or a flambe treatment, in which the glaze seems to be ignited from below.

One pattern that became particularly popular in China and was made exclusively for export in the 1850s is still known as rose medallion. It’s characterized by a gold circle enclosing a bird and flower in the inside-center of the bowl, surrounded by scenic panels set within floral borders. Other versions of this motif include, rose mandarin, rose canton, cabbage, and bird and butterfly.

In Japan, blue-and-white Imari porcelain bowls, some lidded, some not, were produced alongside red, gold, and blue examples. While most of these bowls were meant to hold food, wider examples with half-circle notches carved into their rims were used by barbers, who would rest the bowls against the necks of their customers to catch the hair they were trimming. Satsuma bowls made for export to the West in the 19th century included square bowls with tapering sides, decorated inside and out. And for hundreds of years, hand-formed raku ware has been the ceramic of choice for tea bowls, which are differentiated from tea cups for their lack of handles.

In Tibet, bowls can serve another purpose. Tibetan singing bowls are technically bells thought to bring healing through their tones and vibrations. Used in Buddhist meditation, antique singing bowls are made of a bronze alloy that includes copper, tin, nickel, silver, gold, and zinc. A good singing bowl makes several tones at once, which careful listeners can discern.

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Asian Art Museum

Asian Art Museum

You can get happily lost searching through the 10,000 or so objects on the Asian Art Museum's website. For example,… [read review or visit site]

Jan-Erik Nilsson's extensive reference on antique Chinese porcelain. Jam-packed with information (e.g. on porcelain… [read review or visit site]

Most watched eBay auctions    

Antique Chinese 19th Century Or Earlier Yongle Mark Anhua Lotus Decorated Bowl Top Rare! Guangxu 1875-1907 Chinese Famille Rose Bowl, Antiques PorcelainAntique Chinese Sgraffito Celadon Foliate Bowl Ming DynastyFine Old Chinese 19th Carved Spinach Jade Bowl Carving Sculpture Scholar ArtRare Tongzhi 1862-75 Chinese Antiques Oriental Porcelain Famille Rose Stem BowlAntique Chinese Molded Foliate Celadon Bowl Song DynastyFine Old Chinese Large 19th Porcelain Famille Rose Covered Bowl Signed ScholarAntique Chinese 19th/20thc Jiaqing Mark 16 Boys Bowl Famille Rose & Red GroundPeriod Ton-zhi,chinese ‘famille-rose’bowl, Bol En Porcelaine De ChineFine Old Chinese 19th Porcelain Famille Rose Yellow Ground Bowl W/ Stand #1Antique Chinese Export Porcelain Dish Planter Bowl Calligraphic Poem Bonsai Nr Fine 19th C Chinese Famille Rose Medallion Canton Punch Bowl 29cm 11.5"18th Antique Old Chinese Celedon Crackle Glazed Bowl --- Rare!30 Cm Large Antique Chinese Porcelain Punch Bowl, Canton Famille Rose Ca 1830 Fine Anglo Indian / Asian Solid Silver Bowl Embossed With Figures + Elephant (2)Antique Chinese Export Asian Circa 1780 Mandarian Porcelain Wash Basin BowlFine Old Chinese 19th Porcelain Famille Rose Yellow Ground Bowl W/ Stand #2Antique Chinese Porcelain Pink Ground Bowl Character Marks On BaseAntique 19th Century Islamic Persian Qajar Pottery Comport Footed Bowl StandWell Made Antique Oriental Chinese Carved Wooden Vase Stand For Bowl Jade BaseJapanese Style Studio Pottery Stoneware 'seto' Tea Bowl Signed On Base ChawanFine Anglo Indian / Asian Solid Silver Bowl Embossed With Figures + Elephant (1)Fine Antique Indian Mughal Chinese Celadon Carved Jade Lotus Bowl 18th CenturyChinese Hand Decorated Rice Bowl And Lid, Red Seal MarkFinest Islamic Bowl Silver Inlay Mamluk Cairoware Arabic Calligraphy RoundelsA Fine Late Ming Blue & White Jingdezhen Kraak Export Porcelain Bowl. Late Wanli18th Antique Old Chinese Qian Long Period Fish Bowl/brush Washer -- Very Rare!A Very Fine 19c Antique Islamic Indian Burmese Silver Bowl Footed Bowl Paper Cup, Export Solid Silver With Bamboo Relief 184 Gr19 Th Century Chinese Blue & White Planter / Jardiniere Bowl Kangxi Style Rare Chinese 19thc Bleu De Hue Porcelain Bowl - Vietnamese Market - Nei Fu MarkFine Old Chinese 19th Porcelain Famille Rose Bowl Carving Sculpture Scholar19th Century, A Chinese Famille-rose Bowl,porcelain De ChineC1780 Chinese Export Oriental Lowestoft Porcelain Bowl Saucer Elinor Gordon TagAntique 16th/17thc Chinese Incised Celadon Crackle Glaze Large Shallow Bowl19th Century,a Chinese ‘blue & Blanc' Porcelain Bowl,porcelaine De Chine!Beautiful Delicate Chinese Celadon Green Jade Cup Bowl W Russet MarkRare Islamic Bowl Mamluk Revival Cairoware Persian Arabic Calligraphy 1800s 21cmFine Antique Carved Chinese Hardwood Vase / Bowl StandAntique 19thc Malay Malaysian Silver Wide Bowl, Lozenge Design On 3 Bun FeetAntique 19thc Malay Malaysian Large Silver Lobed Floral Design Footed BowlFine Chinese Porcelain Bowl Qianlong Mark Antique Chinese Porcelain Small Pink Ground Tea Bowl Character Marks On BaseLarge 19th C Chinese Famille Rose Medallion Canton Bowl & Lid Gold BackgroundSuperb 19th Century Chinese Signed Porcelain Tea Bowl.Fine Chinese Porcelain Bowl Qianlong Mark Antique Islamic / Indian Solid Silver Bowl With Embossed Floral Design (2)Antique Islamic / Indian Solid Silver Bowl With Embossed Floral Design (1)Beautiful Fine Antique Islamic 19th Century Damascus Silver Inlaid Bowl Large Heavy Chinese Porcelain Clair De Lune Bowl - Seal Mark On Base - 20th Museum Quality Antique Signed Persian Islamic Solid Silver Nut Bowl By LahijiKw Japanese Vintage Gold Repair Kintsugi Pair Plate Bowl Seto Sometsuke CeramicFine Chinese Doucai Porcelain Bowl Yongzheng MarkAntique Chinese Famille Rose Wine Cup Tea Bowl Yongzheng Qianlong 18thc LibationFine 18th Century Antique Islamic Bronze Shallow BowlAntique Japanese Dragon Turtle Bronze Metal Dish Bowl Plate Tray Flower Figures Large & Perfect! Antique Chinese Enamelled Nanking Warriors Porcelain Punch Bowl18th C. Kangxi Chinese Gilt Blue White Red Bowl With French Bronze Chinese Polychrome Antique Porcelain Leaf Dragons Signed Ruffle Edge Bowl NrChinese Yongzheng Period 18thc Semi Eggshell Tea Bowl & Saucer Circa 1720