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    

Antique Chinese 19thc Qianjiang Large Lidded Bowl Cover Calligraphy Birds SignedAntique Chinese 19th Century Kangxi Mark Bowl Famille Verte & Under Glaze BlueAntique Chinese Celadon Glazed Lotus Petal Bowl Fine Chinese Blue & White Bowl Kangxi Mark To Base 15 Cm In Diameter Very Beautiful Old Chinese Cloisonne Bowl - Character Marks On Base - Rare L@@kAntique Japanese / Chinese Solid Silver Two Handled Bowl Signed Handmade FlowersKangxi B/w Bowl: Eight Horses Of Mu WangAntique Chinese Qingbai Stem Cup Footed BowlKangxi Blue/copper Red Magpie Prunus BowlFine Chinese Dragon Bowl Kangxi Mark Antique 18thc Chinese Handpainted Porcelain Tea Bowl & Saucer.A Chinese Porcelain Bowl With Bird And Floral Decor. Red Square Seal Mark 19thcKangxi B/w Bowl W/ Lange LyzenLot 7 Antique Chinese Carved Wood Stands Vase Jade Bowl Ginger Jar Lid Top Fine Chinese Blue And White Bowl Qianlong Mark A Chinese Famille Verte 'bok Choy And Butterfly' Bowl, Early 20th CenturyChinese 19th C. Leaf Form Celadon Famille Rose Footed BowlAntique 19thc Indian Solid Silver Heavy Bowl, Kashmir C.1880Fine And Old Chinese Famille Rose Porcelain Planter Bowl Very Fine Plater Bowl.E939: Japanese Old Shino Pottery Tea Bowl With Golden Repair By Shunji KatoAntique 18thc Chinese Handpainted Porcelain Tea Bowl.Chinese Qianlong 1736-95 Antique Porcelain Oriental Blue White Famille Rose BowlAntique Annamese Hoi An Hoard Shipwreck Footed Bowl 15th Cent Cu Lao Cham No: 2Fine Chinese 17th Centry Blue And White Dragon Bowl Late Ming Early Qing DynastyAntique 20thc Burmese Large Solid Silver Shan States Bowl C.1900 Antique Important Chinese Asian Qing Dynasty Porcelain Peacock BowlGood Chinese Canton Enamel Bowl With Fine Floral Decoration 19thcAntique Chinese Symbolism Yixing Clay Vase Rare ~signed~ Stoneware Bowl Urn, NrAntique 19thc Rare Indian Solid Silver Swami Bowl, Madras C.1880Nice 19th Century Japanese Meiji Period Satsuma BowlVintage Japanese Tea Bowl, Chawan Signed Kintsugi Japan 1Antique Annamese Celadon Hoi An Hoard Shipwreck Bowl 15th Cent Cu Lao ChamAttractive Little Relief Decorated Indian Silver Bowl - Lucknow C1900 - 3.91ozF127: Japanese Old Imari Beautiful Colored Porcelain Bowl With Carp PaintingAntique 19thc Rare Indian Poona Solid Silver Bowl C.1880E932: Chinese Blue-and-white Porcelain Bowl With Dragon And Phoenix PaintingE941: Japanese Ohi Pottery Tea Bowl With Good Ame Glaze By Famous Choami Ohi Antique Chinese Blanc De Chine Footed Bowl Song DynastyJapanese Raku Ware Tea Bowl By Shoraku Sasaki; Nice Glaze/ Kuro-raku/ 4806Very Attractive & Unusual Naturalistic Lobed Indian Silver Bowl C1900 - 5.80ozAntique Kashkul Persian Handpainted Lacquer/brass Bowl F034: Real Old Japanese Blue-and-white Porcelain Tea Bowl Of Kihara-garatsu Antique Chinese Porcelain Tea Bowl Saucer Blue And White Ca Mau Shipwreck CargoAntique Chinese Porcelain Tea Bowl Saucer Blue And White Ca Mau Shipwreck CargoSmall Indian (kutch) Silver Relief Decorated Bowl C1900 - 2.88ozAntique Chinese Blue Glazed Food Bowl Circa 1800Large Antique Chinese Carved Wood Vase Display Stand Vase Censer Bowl Planter Ultra Fine Antique Signed Persian Islamic Isfahan Solid Silver Bowl By ParvareshAntique Chinese Export Blue & White Canton Porcelain Petal Edge Bowl Dish BkpE933: Chinese Pottery Tea Bowl Popular Tenmoku-chawan With BoxA Chinese Porcelain Bowl & Two Saucers Kang-xi Period With Figural Figures 18thcAntique Tongzhi Signed Chinese Porcelain Small Footed Dish / Bowl In Leaf ShapeAntique Chinese Porcelain Bowl With Three DragonsAntique Chinese Asian 19c Paktong Pewter Duck Covered Warming Bowl Plate SignedAntique Annamese Hoi An Hoard Shipwreck Footed Bowl 15th Cent Cu Lao Cham No: 1Indian Silver Bowl Hamilton 1815 43 Oz.Gb9: Japanese Tea Bowl With Notched Foot, Hagi Ware By Seigan Yamane, Oni-hagi19th Century Chinese Hand Painted Soup BowlAntique Chinese Porcelain Tea Bowl Saucer Blue And White Ca Mau Shipwreck CargoNice Antique Chinese Turquoise Glazed Porcelain Bowl W Dragons, Daoguang Mark