Whether they're high-shouldered or pear-shaped, rounded at their waists or curvaceous like a beaker, vases from China and Japan are expressive vessels. Made out of jade, bronze, porcelain, and numerous other materials, their forms are blank slates for decorations ranging from abstract patterns of dripping glazes to intricate narratives depicting scenes from everyday life, menacing dragons, and spiritual figures such as the Buddha.

Well before Chinese ceramists perfected the recipe for a strong, bone-white porcelain, which would become a staple of Chinese vases, celadon glazes were fired over earthenware and stoneware to replicate the greenish glow of jade. Porcelain as we think of it today wasn't invented in China until the Han dynasty a few thousand years ago, and the material did not come into its own until the Song and Yuan dynasties, which stretched between 960 and 1368. During the early part of this period, the first Imperial porcelain vases were produced. By the end of the era, cobalt-blue illustrations based on lyrical poems and stories about birds, animals, fish, and insects adorned white porcelain vases. At the time, blue was the only color that could withstand the high heat required to fire porcelain; today, traditional blue-and-white designs are still produced by Chinese, as well as Japanese, ceramists.

Vases and other types of porcelain pieces from the Song and Yuan dynasties were actually collected by Chinese living during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), which saw an explosion of colorful and innovative polychrome porcelain designs. Some of these images featured fine line drawings of dragons and animals like lions and fish. Other depictions were even more intricate, especially on vases whose design motifs were dominated by flowers, fruit, birds, women in traditional dress, and scenes from opera and literature.

The Ming dynasty also saw the emergence of cloisonné, a technique imported to China from the Near East. In Chinese cloisonné vases, the forms were usually made of copper or bronze, as were the strips of metals used to create the cloisons, which were filled with a glass paste that was mixed with various metallic oxides (cobalt for blue, manganese for purple, uranium for orange, and so forth) to create colorful enamels. Firing these pieces was a multiple-step process since the enamel shrunk and had to be filled in after each firing. Concurrently, artisans devised a hybrid of porcelain and cloisonné called fahua, in which thin lines of ceramic slip were drawn on the body of the porcelain vases to create the cloisons, which were then filled in with enamel. Later, enamel was used like a glaze on vases to produce what are called overglaze enameled porcelain.

During the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), painted porcelain began to be classified by its color palette: famille verte (green and iron red dominate); famille jaune (yellow ground); famille noire (black ground); and famille rose (mostly pink and purple). Around the same time, cloisonné enamel was used to decorate porcelain vases with chrysanthemum, lotus, peony, and rose flowers.

Meanwhile, in Japan, 17th-century ceramists were developing overglaze-enamel techniques of their own, particularly to produce Imari porcelain, which was used to created vases with a blue underglaze topped with overglazes of rusty orange and bright gold. Baluster-shaped vases large enough to be placed on the floor often featured cranes frames by elaborate scrollwork. Later, in the 19th century, gilded Satsuma vases were widely exported to the West. But not all Japanese vases were so garishly glazed. For example, Hirado vases were left bone white, with modest blue designs painted on their surfaces, and dragons or chrysanthemum petals applied to their bases and necks in dramatic relief.

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    

Top Rare! V-impressive! Qianlong 1736-1795 Famille Rose Vase, Chinese AntiquesRare Large 1600 Antique Chinese Ming Zhangzhou Blue Dragon Porcelain Vase / JarChinese Blue & White Porcelain Vase, Qilins On Rocks, 19th C., Possibly KangxiChinese Famille Rose Porcelain Moon Flask Vase, Calligraphy & Landscape 19/20thc19th Century Chinese Porcelain Wall Pocket Vase19th C. Chinese Famille Rose Baluster Vase With Phoenix, Flowers And BirdsHuge Museum Worthy Antique 19th C Islamic Indian Kutch Solid Silver Vase 1371gRare Large Fine Antique Japanese Meiji Period Dragon Cloisonne Vase Large 19thc Chinese Vase Painted With Prunus Double Circles Kangxi 10" Japanese Meiji Bronze Mixd Metal Silver Gold Vase Flocks Of Cranes VaseSuperb Fine Chinese Porcelain B/w Bottle Vase 19th C. Kangxi MarkRare Vintage Large Peking Chinese Glass Vase SignedSuperb Set! Chinese Porcelain Famille-verte Vases + Covers 19th C. Quality!Antique Authentic Middle East Detailed Engraved Animals .840 Solid Silver VaseHuge Large Antique 19thc Chinese Canton Famille Rose Celadon Porcelain Vase QingKinkozan Quality Japanese Signed Satsuma By Senzan - Pair Of Vases C1900Large Perfect Chinese Porcelain Fam-verte Wucai Vase + Cover 19th C. Kangxi MarkSuperb Chinese Cloisonne Gu Vase Bronze Gilt Turquoise - 19th C.10hk Japanese Singed €Antique Japanese Cloisonne Six Sided Vase With Sculpted Silver Wires Sky Blue NrGreat Pair Chinese Porcelain B/w Vases + Covers 19th C. Kangxi MarkNice Large Old Chinese Carved Wooden Display Stand For Vase Or Bowl #1Top Quality Chinese Porcelain Coloured Vase 19th C. Qianlong MarkSuperb Large Pair Chinese Porcelain B/w Vases 19th C. Xuande Mark 40cmSuperb Perfect Chinese Porcelain Wucai Fam-verte Vase 19th C. FloralFine Old Pair Of Chinese Famille Rose Porcelain Emperor Bats Motif Vases Signed Pair Of Large Antique Japanese Silver Wire Cloisonne Vases & Signed: Ota HyozoRare Chinese Blue And White Vase Kangxi C1700Vintage Rare Antique Chinese Kangxi 17th Century Hand Painted Large Vase-perfectFine Old Chinese Carved Lacquer Wood Ruyi Motif Footed Stand For Cloisonne VaseStunning Chinese Famille Porcelain Vase Fine Art Painting, Guangxu Mark, 20th CFine Chinese Porcelain Colored Vase 19th C. Rooster 46cm - 18-inchFine Large Antique African Carved Posh Cow Bone Spill Vase Chinese Interest RareLarge Chinese 18th C Blue And White Porcelain Vase Marked Kangxi Wl931Rare Small Chinese Porcelain Teadust Vase + Wooden Base Ca. 1900Late 19th C. Chinese Blue And White Dragon And Phoenix Decorated VaseHuge Perfect Chinese Porcelain Colored Vase 19th C. 24-inch Double BirdAntique Persian Islamic Ghajar 2 Solid Silver Vases Hallmarked 84 As Russian ArBeautiful Quality Pair Of Antique Japanese Cloisonne Vases Meiji PeriodChinese Carved Jadeite Jade Covered Vase, Flowers, Birds & Rocks, Mid 20th C.36cm Qing Dynasty Chinese Porcelain Blue & White Landscape Vase AntiqueSigned Kinkozan Meiji Japanese Satsuma Silver/gold AppliquA Good Pair Of 19th Century Chinese Blue And White VasesChinese 20th C Porcelain Antique VaseAntique Chinese Oriental Porcelain Sang De Boeuf Ox Bowl Vase - Signed - PerfectAntique Chinese Qing 19th Century Hand Carved Wooden Vase Or Bowl Stand, Ornate!Antique Chinese Qianlong Mark Republic Period Vase Ladies And Poem Fine QualityAntique Chinese Porcelain Vase Four Colour Red Green Blue Black Qing DynastyHuge Chinese Porcelain Colored Vase 19th C. 24-inch Rooster 61cmA Top Pair Of Famille Verte Crackle 19th Century Chinese Porcelain Vases DragonsPr Chinese Export Enamel Cloisonne Carved Floral Vases W Foo Lion Dog Finial LidFine Lot Four Chinese And Japanese Flambe & Monochrome Vases 19th & 20th C.Antique Chinese Wood Vase Stand, 19th Century, Huanghuali ?Kangxi Marked, Chinese Porcelain Antiques 19thc Icy Blue And White VaseChinese Blue & White Porcelain Vase, Dragons, Yongzheng Mark, 19th C. Or EarlierVery Large 18th C Chinese Blue And White Porcelain Rouleau Vase Marks Ne031Chinese Sang De Boeuf Baluster Vase PairVintage 20thc Chinese Cloisonne Enamel & Brass Vase W/ Pheasant BirdsA Fine Quality Antique Chinese 19th Century Carved Hardwood Vase Bowl StandAntique Persian Islamic Arabic Solid Silver Vases Sign Make Your Mark&84 Russian