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    

Very Fine Famille Rose Mandarin Palette Bowl Qianlong 18thcFine Chinese 18th C Qianlong En Grisaille Porcelain Tea Bowl Vase Famille RoseA Chinese Porcelain Transitional Period Hatcher Cargo Shipwreck BowlAntique Chinese Celadon Sgraffito Incised Fish Bowl Ming DynastyAntique 19thc Chinese Solid Silver Dragon Sugar Bowl & Cover C.1890Top Chinese Porcelain Kangxi Bowl 18th C Blue White Chilong Dragons Censer MarkPretty 18th C Chinese Qianlong Famille Rose Mandarin Porcelain Tea Bowl Cup VaseJapanese Meiji Period Satsuma Pottery Thousand Flowers Millefleur Bowl - Nice!Antique Chinese Street Artists & Musicians Porcelain B&w Bowl Late Qing DynastyMuseum Signed Antique Burmese Sterling Silver Figural Repousse Covered BowlChinese Export Rose Quartz Jade Carnelian Tiger Eye Bonsai W Cloisonne Bowl VaseChinese Export Rose Quartz Jade Carnelian Flower Plant W/ Cloisonne Enamel BowlB695: Chinese Pottery Ware Tea Bowl. Traditional Nogime-tenmoku-chawan W/boxVintage Oriental Chinese Dragon Cloisonne Enameled Brass Bowl Undamaged 16.5 CmsOa3: Japanese Tea Bowl, Hagi Ware By Famous Potter, Seigan Yamane, Light GreenRare Chinese Export Blue And White Porringer Bleeding Bowl Kangxi E18thcRare Antique Chinese Famille Verte Reticulated Porcelain Basket Bowl QualityOa1: Japanese Hagi Ware Tea Bowl With Notched Foot By Seigan Yamane, Oni-hagiB831: Chinese Blue Porcelain Ware Bowl Of Traditional Ka-yo Style.Fine 18th Century Antique Islamic Persian Tinned Copper BowlBeautiful Chinese Spinach Green Jade Bowl Carved Hardwood Stand 6.5 InchesB005: Chinese Colored Porcelain Ware Bowl With Appropriate Work And Tone.18th Century Chinese Porcelain Nanking Cargo Blue & White Bowl Christie's LabelA Kangxi Yellow Famillie Verte Porcelain Bowl And Plate With Flowers, Pre-1800Antique Chinese Porcelain Blue & White Calligraphy Bowl Ming DynastyHuge Healing Grade E Chakra Tibetan Singing Bowl 10" #e1790 Retail: $650Stunning 18th C Chinese Qianlong Blue And White Pagoda Porcelain Plate Bowl VaseRare 17th Century Antique Islamic Persian Safavid Pottery Bowl A Beautiful Fine Antique Islamic 19th Century Damascus Silver Inlaid BowlAntique Chinese Porcelain Blue & White Lotus Scroll Bowl Ming DynastyB905: Chinese Blue Porcelain Ware Tea Bowl With Good Glaze And Tone W/boxOg4: Japanese Hand-shaped Tea Bowl, Hagi Ware By Seigan Yamane, 3 Color GlazesOg6: Japanese Tea Bowl By Famous Potter, Eichi Kato, Cherry Blossom GlazeVery Fine Hand Chiseled Vintage Signed Persian Islamic Solid Silver Dish BowlSuperb Early Chinese Celadon-glazed Charger/bowl Yuan/ming DynastyAntique 10thc Nishapur Kufic Script Persian Pottery BowlOa2: Japanese Tea Bowl Of Hagi Ware By Famous Potter, Seigan Yamane, Blue Hagi D051: Korean Rhee-dynasty Style Pottery Tea Bowl Of Popular Ido-chawan W/boxAntique Islamic Pierced Brass Bowl Ottoman Turkish Cresent LargeOm6: Japanese Pottery Tea Bowl, Koishiwara Ware By Famous Potter, Shuzan SatomiTop Quality! Ca 1880 Kangxi Kraak Marked Revival Guangxu "hunter" Tea Bowl QingGreat Chinese Porcelain Colored Bowl 19th C. Guangxu M&pOf7: Vintage Japanese Tea Bowl Of Raku Ware By 1st Class Potter, Shoraku SasakiA Kangxi Blue & White Porcelain Bowl With Figures, Pre-1800Museum Antique Signed Oriental Asian Export Solid Silver Tray Bowl 528gr 18.6 OzA Fine Quality Antique 'doucai' Lotus Cup 18th Century Chinese Porcelain BowlAntique Chinese Porcelain Blue & White Fish Bowl Ming DynastyOh6: Vintage Japanese Celadon Tea Bowl By Famous Potter, Masahito IidaFine Antique Persian Solid Silver Bowl Middle Eastern Islamic 166g Not Scrap Top Quality! Ca 1700 Kangxi Blue White Figural Zotje Boy Tea Bowl Qing Perfect!!Perfect Unusual Chinese Porcelain Brown Glazed Bowl 19th C. Kangxi MarkedAntique Chinese 19th 20th C Famille Rose Porcelain Bowl Guangxu Period QingAntique Indian Solid Silver Embossed & Chased Sugar Bowl C1890 127gOa5: Japanese Tea Bowl, Hagi Ware By Famous Seigan Yamane, Galaxy GlazeTop Quality! Set 19thc Tongzhi Bird Floral Lobbed Bowl Qing Marked PorcelainOl8: Japanese Tea Bowl Of Kyo Ware By Famous Potter, Shozan Kato, ChickenA Rare/fine Chinese 19c Blue&white Floral Bowl-guangxu Mark&periodOld Chinese Ox Horn Carved Bowl/brush Washer~mantis, Frog & Grasses On SurfaceA Large Famille Rose Bowl With Daoguangs Sealmark In Red, 19th CentruyOg8: Vintage Japanese Tea Bowl, Ohi Ware By 1st Class Potter, The 3rd Choami Ohi