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    

Chinese Famille Rose Porcelain BowlAntique Chinese Green Glazed Bowl Lotus & Fish Ming Dynasty Rare C1680 Chinese Kangxi Powder Blue Glaze Ormolu Bronze Mounted Tureen BowlFine Large Antique Chinese Porcelain Turquoise Incised Bowl Three Friends KangxiDeeply Carved Chinese Spinach Jade Flying Dragon Centerpiece Bowl W Wood StandLate 19th Century Chinese Coconut And Pewter Sugar Bowl With Silver SpoonHuge Estatelot Chinese Wood Hardwood Vase Bowl Censer Jade Figure Display StandsVery Rare 17thc Chinese Kangxi Famille Verte Qilin Landscape Brush Washer BowlFine 17/18thc Chinese Kangxi Copper Red Langyao Flambe Glazed Bowl Chenghua MkSuperb Signed Chinese Jiaqing Famille Rose Landscape Story Bowl W StandRare Antique Kangxi C 1690 Chinese Porcelain Blue & White Bowl Hunting SceneOld Bronze? 3 Leg Chinese Censer / Incense Bowl * Marked On Bottom Antique Chinese Mings 14k White Jade Rice Bowl Pin Qing 19th Century No ReserveLb7: Japanese Tea Bowl, Ohi Ware By Great Potter, Choraku Ohi, Kintsugi RepairAntique Chinese 19th Century Iron Red Decorated Stem Bowl Archaic Six Char MarkAntique Chinese Song Dynasty Incised & Combed Foliate Decoration BowlXl Antique Chinese Song Dynasty Incised & Combed Decorated White Stoneware BowlV.rare 12c Chinese Song Dynasty Longquan Celadon Crackle Glaze Brush Washer BowlBeautiful Rare Chinese 19thc Oriental Antiques Porcelain Famille Rose BowlGood Antique Late 19th Century Chinese Porcelain Yellow BowlEarly 19th Century Chinese Porcelain Bowl And Cover - Thai Market - BencharongChinese Late Qing Dynasty Porcelain Famille Rose BowlUnusual Antique Chinese Pewter Calligraphy Bowl Cover And Liner - MarksFinest Antique / Vintage Carved Chinese Wooden Vase / Bowl StandsLarge & Fantastic Antique 19th Century Chinese Enamelled Figures Porcelain BowlChinese Antique Wucai Tea Bowl Birds & Flowers 18th Century Famille Verte QingVintage Chinese Jun Ware Shallow Bowl Antique Chinese Dragon Bowl Spectacular 18th Century Edo Period Japanese Imari Lobed Bowl Large DimensionsAntique 10" Chinese Export Canton Large Shaped BowlChinese Nanking Cargo Shipwreck "tea Bowl & Saucer" Circa 1750 Christies LabelsAntique 18th Century Chinese Qianlong Blue & White Porcelain BowlChinese Porcelain Sweetmeat Dish Bowl Complete Set - Famille Rose - Qing DynastyBeautiful Flambe Glaze Chinese Bowl. 5 Character Mark.G388 Great Korean Joseon Dynasty Pottery Tea Bowl Of Ao-ido-chawan W/double Box.Antique Chinese Cizhou Bowl Flowers & Foliations YuanAntique Islamic Persian Qajar Safavid Kashan Garras Turkish Middle Eastern BowlA Beautiful Antique Chinese Export Silver Bowl With Cover And Glass Liner 1900Antique Chinese Bowl Qing Dynasty Tongzhi 19th CenturyFine Antique 19thc Chinese Famille Rose Imperial Yellow BowlLarge Chinese Antique 19thc Qing Dynasty Riverside Landscape Bowl W Kangxi MarksImpressiv Large Chinese Cloisonne Enamel Floral Landscape Centerpiece Basin BowlLe8: Japanese Tea Bowl, Kyo Ware By Human Cultural Treasure, Yasutaka ShimizuA Chinese Black Paper-cut Decorated Jizhou Ware Bowl Song DynastyLa7: Japanese Hagi Ware Tea Bowl With Notched Foot By Seigan Yamane, Oni-hagiFine Antique 19th Century Chinese Porcelain Bowl And CoverAntique Chinese Asian Qing Dynasty Blue White Celadon Plate Shallow Bowl DishAntique Chinese Bowl Qing Dynasty Tongzhi 19th CenturyLk9: Antique Old Korean Pottery Tea Bowl, 19c, JoseonAntique Chinese 19th Century Iron Red & Green Dragon Bowl /censer Four Char MarkEstate Chinese Cloisonne Enamel Plique A Jour Bowl Tray Box Wine Cup Ming QingAntique Chinese Bowl Qing Dynasty Tongzhi 19th CenturyLarge Chinese Kangxi 18thc Blue White Bowl Kylin Peacock Landscape Leaf MarkLf3 Japanese Tea Bowl, Shino Ware, National Human Treasure Potter, Toko NakamuraAntique 18th Century Transfer Printed Blue & White Tea Bowl & Saucer C1780 Nr43# Old Antique Islamic Ottoman / Persian Copper BowlAntique Japanese Dragon Cloisonne BowlAntique Chinese Bowl Qing Dynasty Tongzhi 19th CenturyLa8: Japanese Tea Bowl, Hagi Ware By Famous Potter, Seigan Yamane, Blue GlazeImperial Quality Antique Chinese Tongzhi Mark And Period Famille Rose Fish Bowl