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 C1900 Chinese Sing Fat Sterling Silver Tea Set Teapot Jug Sugar Bowl & CaseFine C1820 Chinese Daoguang Mark & Period Famille Rose Enamel Nine Dragons BowlSigned Chinese Qianlong Imperial Yellow Glazed Carved Lotus Porcelain BowlAntique Chinese 19th Century Carved Rock Crystal Brushwasher Bowl Buddhist LionSuperb Antique Chinese Guan Crackle Glazed Foliate Rim Brush Washer Dish BowlVery Fine Chinese Ding White Glazed Tripod Censer Bowl Song Ming DynastyStunning Chinese Porcelain B/w Bowl&cover With Figures.kangxi Marked!top!Amazing 12thc Chinese Song Dynasty Stripped Russet Black Glazed Cizhou BowlFine 19thc Chinese Porcelain Famille Rose Birds Pink Ground Bowl 1- Guangxu MarkAntique Chinese 19th/18th Century Blue And White Large Punch Bowl KangxiSuperb 12thc Chinese Song Dynasty Vibrant Jun Crackle Glazed Small Bowl DishFine 19thc Chinese Porcelain Famille Verte Figures Landscape Fish Bowl JardinereEx Rare Chinese Song Dynasty Yaozhou Celadon Glazed Lotus Blossom Carved BowlPair Chinese Qingbai Glazed Stem Bowl Cups With Lotus Stands Song Yuan DynastyRare 12thc Chinese Song Dynasty Longquan Celadon Twin Fish Brush Washer BowlFine 19thc Chinese Porcelain Famille Rose Bird Yellow Ground Bowl 3 Guangxu MarkRare Large Chinese Yuan Ming Dynasty Longquan Celadon Glazed Charger BowlBeautiful Chinese Porcelain B/w Bowl&cover With Figures.18th C.xuande Marked!V.rare 17/18thc Chinese Cloisonne Enamel Scholars Water Pot Brush Washer BowlA279: Chinese Pottery Ware Flat Tea Bowl W/good Glaze Popular Tenmoku-chawan.Rare C1820 Chinese Daoguang Mark & Period Bat Figural Enamel Porcelain BowlFine 19thc Chinese Porcelain Famille Rose Birds Pink Ground Bowl 2- Guangxu MarkVery Fine 12thc Chinese Southern Song Dynasty Cizhou Black Flambe Glazed BowlC1880 Antique 19thc Indian Kutch Solid Silver Repousse Floral Design BowlGood Large 19thc Chinese Celadon Blue White Calligraphy Jardinere Bowl - MarkedAntique Japanese Bronze Dragons Bowl Meiji PeriodEx.rare Signed Chinese Ming Dynasty Blue White Imperial Emperor Scenic BowlV.rare 13/14thc Chinese Jin Yuan Dynasty White Black Cizhou Fish Figural BowlAntique Chinese Porcelain Famille Verte Bowl - Kangxi Mark And Period - C.1700Rare 12thc Chinese Southern Song Dynasty Jet Black Cizhou Flambe Glazed BowlAntique Chinese 19th / 20th Century Butterfly Pedestal Bowl With Painted MarkStunning 19th C. Japanese Satsuma Bowl By Kozan. Meiji Era High Quality SignedAntique Chinese Tenmoku Black Ware Tea Bowl Song DynastyChinese Blue And White Porselein' Bowl 19th CenturyA 19th C Chinese Porcelain Famille Rose Figures & Landscape Bowl Tongzhi PeriodFine Large C1850 Chinese Daoguang Famille Rose Imperial Figures Footed Bowl DishEstate Lot Chinese Song Dynasty Hares Fur Flambe Longquan Celadon Bowl DishSuperb Unusual Rare & Fine Quality 19 C Chinese Porcelain Large Bowl SignedVeryfine Chinese Qing Dynasty Famille Jaune Yellow Enamel Conical Bowl Kangxi MkAntique Chinese 19th Century Carved Jade/hardstone Libation Cup Bowl Lotus FormA425: Japanese Old Blue-and-white Porcelain Ware Bowl Of Peach FormAntique Chinese Carved Rosewood Wood Pedestal Stand-vase/bowl/jar/censer-9 1/4"Rare 12thc Chinese Song Dynasty Longquan Celadon Glazed Twin Fish Bowl DishMl7: Japanese Large Tea Bowl By Seigan Yamane, Kyusetsu Miwa Style, Dia. 6.5"Antique 13th-14th Century Vietnamese Green Glazed Shallow Bowl Vietnam #16 YqzEarly Ancient Dong Son Period Vietnamese Bronze Bowl Nice Patina Vietnam #14 YqzBeautiful 18th C. Yongzheng Chinese Export Sugar BowlAntique 19thc Chinese Doucai Fine Porcelain Bowl, Blue 4 Character Mark To BaseAntique Chinese Porcelain Shallow Bowl Shou Bats Shende Tang ZhiRare C1725 Chinese Yongzheng Ca Mau Shipwreck Copper-red Fish Stem Bowl CupMc7: Japanese Tea Bowl, Hagi Ware By Famous Seigan Yamane, 3 Color GlazesAntique 19thc Japanese Meiji (1868-1912) Imari Arita Porcelain Boat Dish / BowlFine 15/16thc Chinese Ming Dynasty Longquan Celadon Crackle Glazed Carved BowlRare Chinese Polychrome Enamel Fu Lion Beast Conical Bowl Jin Yuan DynastyLarge Antique Chinese Porcelain Famille Rose Bowl Dish On FootTop Set! 18c Qianlong Chinese Porcelain Bird Export Tea Bowl Cup Saucer QingLarge Chinese Famille Rose Lime Green Glazed Divided Lidded Gourd Bowl TureenVery Finely Carved Chinese Granite Marble Stone Footed Bowl W Antique StandAntique Chinese Nanking Cargo Batavian Tea Bowl & Saucer Pair Circa 1750s (no:3)Estate Lot Chinese Song Ming Dynasty Cizhou & Longquan Celadon Fish Dish Bowl