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    

Rare Chinese Qing Dynasty Carved Rock Crystal Scholars Water Pot Censer BowlAn 18th Century Chinese Porcelain Yongzheng Period Bowl With FiguresVery Fine Chinese Carved Light Celadon Jade Scholars Water Pot Censer BowlSuperb Chinese Carved Celadon Jade Elephant Figure Scholars Water Pot BowlAntique Chinese Song Dynasty Longquan Celadon Fish Decorated Bowl Plate 8 7/8"Very Rare Chinese Porcelain B/w Bowl 18th C. Kangxi CalligraphyImpressive 18thc Large 22.7cm/9" Chinese Antiques Famille Rose Bowl --figures!--Fine Antique Chinese Carved Emerald Rock Crystal Florite Scholars Water Pot BowlNanking Chinese Shipwreck Cargo Tea Bowl & Saucer Christie's Lot5064 Antique NrNanking Chinese Shipwreck Cargo Tea Bowl & Saucer Christie's Lot5064 Antique NrPerfect Chinese Porcelain Notched Bowl On Stand 19th C. Tongzhi M&pAntique Old Chinese Footed 7 3/4" Bowl Goat Pasture Scene Estate Found SignedSuperb Rare Antique Amber Meerschaum Pipe-the Bowl Is Amber And Meerschaum!A Very Fine Large Chinese Porcelain Antique Bats Bowl Qing Dynasty Guangxu Mark18th C Chinese Qianlong Porcelain Famille Rose Mandarin Figures Punch Bowl10) Large Chinese Carved & Pierced Hardwood Display Stand For A Vase/bowl 19thcClassic Chinese Ming Dynasty Style Fluted Hand Painted Bowl ChinaChinese Underglaze Blue And White Porcelain Bowl With Reign Mark, 18th CenturyLf7: Artistic Japanese Tea Bowl, Seto Ware By Famous Potter, Eichi KatoChinese Export Silver Bowl 2 Salts Dragon Handle & Feet LuenwoC1664-1722 Antique Chinese Porcelain Plate Bowl Imari Kangxi ClobberedHeavy Chinese Export Silver Punch Bowl Bamboo & Martele Shanghai 926 Gr4) Fine Chinese Carved & Pierced Hardwood Display Stand For A Vase/bowl 19thcFine Antique 19th C. Chinese Canton Porcelain Famille Rose Bowl.A Very Fine Decorated Large 18th Century Chinese Porcelain BowlPerfect Fine Chinese Porcelain B/w Bowl 18th C. Qianlong Figures 22cm 9-inchLo1: Vintage Japanese Tea Bowl, Raku Ware, Carved Chinese CharactersAntique 1600's Chinese Ming Dynasty Swatow Flowers & Vines Motif Porcelain Bowl19th C Chinese Porcelain Canton / Famille Rose BowlOld Chines Famille Rose Porcelain Bowl Early 20th antique Anamese Earthenware Feast Bowl Old Annam Vietnam C150018th Century Antique Rose Famille Chinese Export Porcelain Punch Bowl Quinlong A Very Large Perfect 18th Century Chinese Porcelain Qianlong BowlLf6: Japanese Tea Bowl, Seto Ware, Famous Potter, Eichi Kato, Blue & BrownAntique Chinese Song Dynasty Longquan Celadon Crackle Glaze Bowl2 Antique Chinese Victorian Goldfields Jar Bowl Pot Base Embossed A Chinese Famille Rose Porcelain Dish Large Bowl 20thAntique Reticulated Chinese Plique A Jour CloisonnAntique Chinese Yuan Dynasty Longquan Celadon Glaze Lotus Motif Bowl PlateRoyal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Half Lace Covered Sugar BowlLn7: Japanese Tea Bowl, Seto Ware, Wave SplashAntique Islamic Ceramic Near Eastern Nishapur Pottery Bowl - 900 AdYn3: Vintage Japanese Tea Bowl, Hagi Ware By 1st Class Potter, Sanzaemon Kaneta2) Fine Chinese Carved & Pierced Hardwood Display Stand For Vase Or Bowl 19thc8) Quality Chinese Carved & Pierced Hardwood Display Stand For A Vase/bowl 19thcChinese Ming Dynasty Style Figural Bowl China 4 Young Boys PeachFine Chinese Export Famile Rose Porcelain Butterfly Insect Moth Bug Bowl W StandRare Fine Islamic Persian Arabic Indian Burmese Silver? White Metal Bowl 53gLe2: Japanese Hagi Ware Tea Bowl With Notched Foot By Seigan Yamane, Oni-hagiJapanese Bizen Ware Tea Bowl/ Superb Glaze/ Haikaburi/ Hira-chawan/ 5515C1722-1735 Antique Chinese Porcelain Bowl Plate Imari Yongzheng Period6) Large Chinese Carved & Pierced Hardwood Display Stand For A Vase/bowl 19thcAntique Chinese Ointment Jar Pot Bowl Goldfields 1800'sUo5: Japanese Tea Bowl, Seto Ware By Yoshiki Sugiura, Nitten Exhibition Potter3) Quality Chinese Carved & Pierced Hardwood Display Stand For A Vase/bowl 19thc7) Large Chinese Carved & Pierced Hardwood Display Stand For A Vase/bowl 19thcA Chinese Porcelain Bowl & Saucer With Figures In Panels & A Blue Border 18thcStunning Antique Chinese Cloisonne Bowl / Prancing Horses And Floral DesignLe5: Japanese Tea Bowl By Nitten Exhibition Blue-ribbon Awardee, Einosuke KawaiLa2: Vintage Japanese Tea Bowl, Raku Ware By Famous Potter, Shoraku Sasaki