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]

Gotheborg.com

Gotheborg.com

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    

Chinese Yuan To Early Ming Soft Jun Double Gourd VaseGood Very Large Antique Chinese 18thc Qianlong Period Vase, 15.25 InchesAntique Chinese Famille Verte Vase, Painted DecorationQianlong Marked, Stunning Chinese Porcelain Oriental Antiques Famille Rose VaseExcellent Antique Chinese Famille Jaune Molded Porcelain Vase W Good ProvenanceStunning Chinese Porcelain Oriental Antiques Blue And White Vase + StandLarge Antique Chinese Beautifully Decorated Vase (tongzhi 1862-1874 Mark)Antique Chinese 16th /17th Century Ming Dynasty Bronze Vase With ChilongV-beautiful Chinese 19thc Porcelain Famille Rose Vase Oriental AntiquesGenuine Old Chinese Sang De Boeuf Vase - Seal Mark On Base - Very Rare - L@@kLarge Antique Chinese Vase 44cmAntique Chinese Asian Qing Dynasty Porcelain Famille Rose Covered Vase DragonAntique Chinese 17th/18th Century Dynasty Bronze Archaic Gu Vase Taotie MasksLarge Pr Of Chinese Porcelain Vases With Figures In Blue 19thc Antique Chinese Bottle VaseVery Good Large Antique 18thc Chinese Porcelain Famille Verte Vase Signed - Superb Antique Chinese Porcelain Vase - Wang Bing Rong Style 20thc?Antique Chinese 20thc Republic Period Iron Red & Gilt Gu Vase Kangxi Mark 33cmLarge Antique Chinese 19thc 4 Character Kangxi Mark Sleeve Vase - ElizaA Vintage Pair Of Fine Quality 15.5 Cms Shimazu Japanese Satsuma VasesLarge Antique Chinese Porcelain Vase 19thc, 11" Tall.Top Quality Large Antique Chinese Hardwood Vase / Bowl Stand Beautifully CarvedChinese Antique Turquoise Glazed Bottle VaseChinese Cloisonne Vase & Cover With Gilt Wire Floral Decor On Blue Ground 19thcAntique Large Chinese Asian Qing Dynasty Enamel Wu Shuang Pu VaseSuperb Quality Antique Qajar Persian Islamic Isfahan Chased Solid Silver Vase.Chinese Northern Song Dynasty Black Glazed Bottle VaseAntique Chinese Porcelain Blue & White Squat Vase Deer Pattern 1600sAntique Chinese Mid 20thc Republic Period 100 Boys Vase Four Character Mark PuceFine Chinese Cloisonne Islamic Market Bottle VaseDamage To Rim - Unusual 9.5"/24cm Antique Chinese Blue & White Porcelain VaseAntique Chinese Red Bottle Vase Covert To LampFine Antique Japanese Wireless Cloisonne Cock Rooster Floral Bud Flower Vase DwcAntique Chinese Celadon Twin Handle Jar Vase Song Dynasty Beautiful Chinese Antique Yellow Glazed Bottle VaseAntique Chinese Famille Rose Verte Large Pair Hand Painted Vase China Qing DynaVintage Meiji Period Japanese Ginbari Cloisonne VaseAntique Chinese Asian Qing Dynasty Oxblood Flambe Porcelain Vase SignedAntique Chinese 19thc Famille Rose Vase - Birds & Butterflies - CantoneseA Superb Chinese19c Famille Rose Figural "three Kingdom" Vase-daoguangAntique Chinese Porcelain Vase Vung Tau Shipwreck Cargo Blue And White MiniatureAntique Fine Quality Japanese Satsuma Vase -gold & Silver On Brown Glaze Beautiful Chinese Antique 18th C. Vase With Lid19th C. Chinese Famille-rose Square VaseFine Pair Antique Chinese 19th Century Blue & White Porcelain VasesPair Of Chinese Famile Verte Porcelain Moon VasesA Good Quality Pair Of Vintage Chinese Carved Hardwood Vase StandsRare ? Brass Or Bronze Antique Or Vintage Chinese Small VaseA Korean, Choson Period Blue And White Bottle Vase 19th/20th Century.Blue / White Chinese Export Vase With Garden / Temple Scene 19th CenturyV Fine Antique Ming/ Qing Chinese Carved Jade Vase / Vessel / Brush PotA Chinese, Blue And White Porcelain Bottle Vase 19th Century. Beautiful Sang De Boeuf Double Gourd Chinese Vase - Seal Signature To Base19th Century Stunning Hand Painted Large Chinese Famille Rose Vase, 36cm High.Two Chinese Famille Rose Vases, Qing/republicA Chinese Porcelain Bottle Vase -colourful Floral Panels Kang-xi Period 18thcAntique Chinese Porcelain Blue And White VaseLovely Vintage Chinese Carved Wood Wooden Base Stand For Lamp Vase PotA) Chinese Cloisonne Vase With Gilt Wire Birds & Flowers For Decoration 19thcChinese Large Cinnabar Red Lacquer Vase 14 1/8"