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 19thc Japanese Meiji Cloisonne Enamel Water Landscape Silver Ginbari VaseSuperb Large Japanese Meiji Cloisonne Enamel Bird Scenic Hallmarked Silver VaseVery Fine Signed Japanese Meiji Cloisonne Enamel Silver Ginbari Crane Bird VaseSuperb 19c Japanese Meiji Cloisonne Enamel Floral Insect Frog Lidded Censer VaseFine Interesting 19c Signed Japanese Cloisonne Enamel Silver Wire Landscape VaseSuperb Pair Of Antique Chinese Famille Verte Vases & Covers Circa 19th Century.Fineantique Japanese Cloisonne Enamel Silver Wire Wireless Landscape Vase SignedFine 19thc Japanese Meiji Cloisonne Enamel Bird Blossom Tree Landscape VaseFine Large 19thc Japanese Meiji Cloisonne Enamel Silver Ginbari Bird Lidded VaseTop Quality Chinese Porcelain Colored Vase Ca. 1920 Qianlong Mark 'frog'Intircate 19c Japanese Meiji Cloisonne Enamel Dragon Phoenix Ginbari Lidded VaseSuperb Signed Japanese Meiji Cloisonne Enamel Gold Gilt Bronze Ginbari VaseVery Rare Chinese Porcelain Colored Bottle Vase 19th C. Relief Qianlong MarkedVery Fine 19thc Japanese Meiji Cloisonne Enamel Gold Gilt Bronze Fluted VaseAmazing Huge Chinese Porcelain Vase 19th C. 25-inch! Top Quality! The Best!Exceptional Japanese Meiji Cloisonne Enamel Water Fish Scenic Wire Wireless VaseEstate Lot 3 Japanese Meiji Cloisonne Enamel Faceted Butterfly Gold Dust VaseVery Fine 19thc Japanese Meiji Cloisonne Enamel Dragon Phoenix Gold Dust VaseRare Antique Pair Chinese Cloisonne Famille Noir Ground Vase China Superb Rare Chinese Porcelain Iron-red Vase 'nine Peaches' 19th C. Top!Perfect Chinese Porcelain Powder-blue Vase + Cover 19th C. Birds 18-inch Top!A Pair Of Japanese Cloisonne Vases With Iris Flowers In A Deep Black BackgroundVery Large Islamic Antique Isnik Design Palestine Pottery VaseVery Fine 19thc Japanese Meiji Cloisonne Enamel Dragon Phoenix Figural VaseLarge Chinese Antique Finely Carved Hardwood Vase / Bowl StandLarge Chinese Antique Finely Carved Hardwood Vase / Bowl StandRare Pair Of Antique Chinese Canton Famille Rose Lizard Vases.Antique Chinese Porcelain Blue And White Vase Dog Foe Chi Lion Kangxi Nian ZhiExcellent Antique Chinese Carved And Enameled Porcelain Vase,18/19thcFine Quality Ando Japanese Cloisonne Enamel Silver Wire Chrysanthemum VaseFine Chinese Carved Wooden Stand For Vase Or Work Of Art (#2)Fine 19c Japanese Meiji Cloisonne Enamel Silver Wire Floral Blue Landscape VaseFine Antique Japanese Meiji Period Kutani Porcelain Vase C.1890Antique Chinese 19th Century Double Gourd Prunus Vase With Kangxi MarkAn Antique Chinese Porcelain Blue And White Vase 18th Century*** Top Quality! *** Antique Chinese Porcelain Canton Vase 19thc Famille RosePerfect Large Chinese Porcelain B/w Vase + Cover 19th C. Quality! 18-inchPair Chinese Porcelain B/w Double Gourd Vases 19th C. Birds Kangxi-markFine 19thc Japanese Meiji Cloisonne Enamel Scrolling Floral Gold Dust Vase2 X Fine Antique Chinese Carved Hardwood Stand- Hongmu Zitan Vase Bowl Large OldGood 23cm Chinese Canton Famille Rose Medallion Vase 19th C 4 Golden DragonsLarge 25cm Chinese Famille Verte 19th C Vase - Lao Tzu (laozi) On Water BuffaloFine Chinese Pink Enamelled Monochrome Vase 19thcExtremely Fine Antique Persian Islamic Indian Kutch Solid Silver Vases 19th CPair Of Chinese Porcelain Blue & White 12" Rouleau Vases, Marked, 19th/20th CFine Pair Chinese Canton Porcelain Famille Rose 19th C.century Rouleau VasesRare Perfect Chinese Porcelain Colored Vase 19th C. Carp Fish! 36cmLarge 19thc Japanese Meiji Cloisonne Enamel Gold Dusted Pierced Lid Censer VasePerfect Rare Chinese Porcelain Hat Stand Vase 19th C. Tongzhi M&p Top!18th C. Chinese Kangxi Period Meiping Crackle Glazed Celadon VaseLarge Chinese Porcelain Famille-verte Vase 19th C. Interior 18-inchGood 18th Chinese Porcelain Powder Blue Gilt Landscape Guglet VaseEstate Lot 3 Japanese Meiji Cloisonne Enamel Censer Vase Jar Wine Pot TeapotInteresting Antique Japanese Vase Painter Potter Interior Scene PaintingBeautiful 19c Japanese Meiji Cloisonne Enamel Floral Landscape Double Gourd VaseRare Antique Chinese Rock Crystal Vase, Double Dragons And Cicada LidMeiji Taisho Bronze Lacquered Huge Jar Vase Relief Songbirds Plum Trees YqzJapanese Taizan Satsuma/porcelain Jars/vasesFine Chinese Porcelain Vase Qianlong Mark  fine Early Chinese Cinnabar Coloured Lacquer Flower Vase China