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    

Superb Antique 18thc Chinese Qing Kangxi Blue & White Phoenix Jar / Ovoid VaseRare Antique 19thc Chinese Qing Monochrome Copper Langyao Red Kangxi Mark VaseLarge Set 3 Antique 18thc Chinese Qing Yongzheng Famille Rose Porcelain VasesVery Fine Pair Antique Qing Chinese Apple Green Ge Type Monochrome Bottle VasesSuperb Antique 19thc Japanese Hirado Blue & White Porcelain Reticulated VaseLarge Antique 19thc Chinese Qing Yellow Famille Rose Porcelain Baluster VaseVeryfine Antique 19thc Chinese Qing Blue & White Porcelain Baluster Meiping VaseAntique Chinese Carved Jade Miniature Vase On Hardwood Stand, 18th Century QingLarge Antique 19thc Chinese Qing Qianlong Mark Famille Rose Porcelain VaseExceptional Large Pair Of Antique 19thc Japanese Meiji (1868-1912) Kutani VasesLarge Antique Qing Chinese Monochrome Langyao Sang De Boeuf Copper Red VaseFine Pair Meiji Japanese Cloisonne Vases C1890 Green Enamel Ducks Signed BaseSuperb Antique 19thc Chinese Qing Qianlong Mark Famille Rose Porcelain VaseA Beautiful Very Rare Chinese Porcelain Kangxi Period Famille Verte VaseSuperb Rare Antique 17/18thc Chinese Qing Kangxi Blue & White Porcelain Vase #2A Stunning Mid 17th Century Transitional Chinese Porcelain Floral VaseSuperb Large Antique 19thc Meiji Japanese Ginbari Cloisonne Enamelled Fan VaseSuperb Rare Antique 17/18thc Chinese Qing Kangxi Blue & White Porcelain Vase #1Exquisite Pair Chinese Famille Rose Porcelain 19th C.century Baluster VasesRare Pair Antique Chinese Qing Blue & White Cracked Ice Prunus Porcelain VasesSuperb Pair Of Antique Chinese Qing Kangxi Mark Blue & White Porcelain VasesA Tall Japanese Cloisonne Vase With Panels Of Birds & Floral Decor 19thcRare Large Antique 19thc Meiji Japanese Awata Kinkozan Satsuma Totai Shippo VaseSuperb Large Antique 19thc Meiji Japanese Cloisonne Enamelled Flower VaseSuperb Antique Chinese Qing Kangxi Mark Wucai Famille Verte Porcelain VaseExquisite Chinese Famille Verte Yen Yen Porcelain 19th Century VaseVery Fine Antique 19thc Chinese Qing Blue De Hue Export Porcelain Bottle VaseMeiji Kyoto Brocade Satsuma Moriage Kutani Large Vase Buddha Kannon Hotoda YqzAntique Chinese Kangxi Porcelain Cafe-au-lait Rose Water Spinkler Vase BlueRare Antique 19thc Chinese Qing Mirror Black Porcelain Baluster Meiping VaseFine Quality Chinese Cloisonne Vase With Intricate Decor & Gilt Wire 19thcFine Antique Chinese Daoguang Qing Blue White Porcelain 8 In Dragon VaseLarge Chinese Famille Rose / Verte Rouleau Vase 19c Circa 1870Wonderful Super Beautiful Chinese Porcelain Vase Figures 19th C.top!Antique Japanese Cloisonne Enamel Vase. Ando Studio With Rare Makers Plaque. Japanese Ginbari Cloisonne Vase On Silver Floral Decoration"rare" 19th C. Chinese Famille Rose Porcelian Hot Pot Bowl Vase NrFine Pair Chinese Porcelain Famille Rose Late 19th Century Vases Quianlong MarkStunning Pair Of Chinese Black Cloisonne Dragon 5 Claw Baluster Vases C.1900Antique Large Chinese Blue & White Double Gourd Vase 19th Kangxi MarkChinese Export Sterling Silver Antique Fabulous Vase Relief DecorStriking Antiqe Very Fine & Detailed Japanese Meiji Partial Ginbari Dragon VaseA) Good Large Chinese Cloisonne Vase With Precious Object Decor 19thcGin-bari Japanese Cloisonne Vase With Floral Decor With Mark On Base 19thcBulk Chinese & Japanese Carved Wood Vase Stands (23) Bigpelican Online AuctionsB) Good Large Chinese Cloisonne Vase With Precious Object Decor 19thcAntique Japanese Cloisonne Vase *rare Wireless Mt. Fuji 1800’s Qing 2 Bronze Repousse Daoist Temple Altar Vases Dragons Immortals Nr YqzBeautiful Antique Japanese Japan Cloisonne Enamel Vase Bulbouos Gold Fish KoiFine Antique Chinese Early Republic Hand Painted Porcelain Vase SignedPair Antique Chinese Porcelain Guangxu Hat Stand Famille Rose Bird VaseChinese Tomb Hunping Vase Repository For The Soul Western Jin Style 3 KingdomsKorean Late Joseon Sometsuke White&blue Porcelain Dragon Vase/jar/potRare Antique 18thc Chinese Qing Amsterdams Bont Clobbered Porcelain Meiping VasePerfect Two Chinese Porcelain B/w Vases With Flowers 19th C.top!Rare Beautiful Chinese Porcelain B/w Kangxi Vase Flowers.18 Th C.19th C Chinese Rose Medallion Antique Export Porcelain Vase Lamp Antique Chinese Carved Hardwood Wooden Vase Jar CoverLarge Prunus Vase With Lid 19th CenturyExceptional Meiji Japanese Kutani Vase Children Feet Dragon Phoenix Goddesses