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    

Nice Antique Chinese Carved Jade Brush Washer Bowl With Wood StandChristie's Chinese Jian Hare's Fur Porcelain Tea BowlFinest Antique Carved Chinese Wooden Vase / Bowl StandLarge Qing Dynasty Chinese Canton Enamel Votive Stand / Pedestal BowlWonderful Antique Chinese Blanc De Chine Porcelain Low Bowl W Applied RatsBeautiful Large Antique Chinese Blue White Porcelain Punch Bowl - 19cAntique Chinese Carved Wooden Hardwood Stand Vase Bowl Display 19th Century QingMassive Antique Chinese Famille Verte Porcelain Planter Fish Bowl W Nice ColorGorgeous Antique Chinese Enameled Porcelain Planter Fish Bowl W FlowersAntique Chinese Celadon Sgraffito Bowl Yuan DynastyLot Of 8 Old Chinese Pink Glazed Porcelain Covered Bowl With StandsExcellent Chinese Yongzheng Mark Doucai Porcelain Bats BowlChinese Blue White Porcelain Shallow Bowl With LandscapeG634: Japanese Hagi Ware Tea Bowl W/golden Repair By Great 9th Koraizaemon SakaChinese Enameled Porcelain Bowl With Dragons And Yongzheng MarkOld Chinese Silver Footed Bowl With Inscription19th C Chinese Porcelain 4 Character Marks Blue & White Figures Landscape BowlLarge Antique Chinese Carved Hardwood (probably Hongmu) Stand For Vase Or BowlRare Antique Chinese Famille Rose Porcelain Lidded Bowl Court Scene MarkedGuangxu Mark & Period Porcelain Bowl With Stand. Dragon & PhoenixAntique Bronze Buddha Shakyamuni Holding Medicine Bowl 19thc TibetVery Large And Impressive Antique Chinese Porcelain Fish Bowl Planter W FiguresFinest Islamic Kashkul Bowl Silver Inlay Mamluk Cairoware Arabic Calligraphy Old Chinese Carved Spinach Jade Covered Bowl W Vines FlowersRare Large 18th / 19thc Antique Indo Persian Islamic Copper Bowl - Kashmir ?Antique Chinese Famille Verte Porcelain Planter Bowl With Continuous SceneRare Antique 18c Porcelain Kakiemon Relief Decorated BowlOld Chinese Carved Spinach Green Jade Footed Bowl W Nice FormUnusual Molded Chinese Porcelain Lotus Bowl With Insects And MarkSuperb Qianlong Qing Dynasty 18thc Bowl No Damage Superb Kangxi Bowl Painted With Phoenix & Qilin Mark On BaseSuperb Pair Of Antique Chinese Translucent Jade Carved Bowls 19thcSuperb Antique Nanking Cargo Brown Glaze Bowl Ex Christies Auction House C 1750Old Chinese Crackle Ge Type Glazed Bowl In Conical FormFine 18th/19thc Chinese Porcelain Teacup/bowl With Mark. Well Painted Large Antique Chinese Famille Rose Canton Porcelain BowlSuperb Antique Japanese Satsuma Pottery Ribbed And Scalloped Bowl - SignedLarge + Impressive Antique Japanese Imari Porcelain Punch BowlAntique Korean Pottery Crackle Glaze Ceramic Bowl Martha Longenecker EstateSmall Antique Tibet Bronze Buddha Medicine Bowl And Hand Raised ShakyamuniSuperb Large Antique Japanese Satsuma Bowl With Detailed Art Work SignedImpressive Antique 19th C Chinese Famille Rose Bowl Plate Guangxu Six Charc 24cmA Hugel Antique Chinese Porcelain Fish Bowl Guangxu 1900 Goldfish !Superbly Designed Vintage Satsuma Small Bowl Beautifully DecoartedAntique Korean Pottery Glazed Ceramic Footed Bowl Martha Longenecker EstateAntique Chinese Ochre Footed Bowl Song DynastyAntique Chinese Export Porcelain Armorial BowlBeautiful Old Antique Japanese Satsuma Pottery Bowl With Figures Meiji PeriodG664: Chinese Pottery Ware Tea Bowl Popular Tenmoku-chawan Antique Chinese Cloisonne Bowl With Stylized DragonAntique Chinese Porcelain Coral Ground Bowl With Turquoise Glaze & Tongzhi MarkAntique Old Chinese Cinnabar Lacquer Made Big Bowl Statue Qian Long MarkG805: Chinese Blue Porcelain Ware Bowl With Appropriate Work And Tone.G761: Chinese Pottery Ware Tea Bowl Popular Tenmoku-chawan With Rare ToneChinese Cloisonne Dragon Bowl Brush Washer & Hardwood Stand Ming Dynasty MarkExcellent 8 Immortals Kangxi Chinese Blue & White 18th C Tea Bowl Wine CupPerfect 29cm Antique 19th C Chinese Porcelain Bowl Basin Guangxu Period ChinaLarge Antique Hand Carved Chinese Vase / Bowl StandA Fine Large Antique Chinese Famille Rose Bowl-18thcAntique Annamese Hoi An Hoard Shipwreck Bird Bowl 15th Century Cu Lao Cham