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    

Stunning Pair Chinese Porcelain Powder-blue Vases + Cover 19th C. Dragon Gilt!Superb Chinese Porcelain B/w Transitional Vase 17th C. Chongzhen FiguresWonderful Large Chinese Porcelain Vase Ca. 1940 20-inch - 51cm Top Quality!Rare Pair Of Tall Kangxi Blue And White Vases. 10" Tall. Huge Perfect B/w Chinese Porcelain Bottle Vase 19th C. Dragon 16-inch Top!Superb Fine Chinese Famille Rose Porcelain Vase Kangxi Qianlong Gilt Bronze Stunning Chinese Porcelain 'hu' Vase 19th C. Dragon Iron-red Top! 30cmAmazing Huge Chinese Porcelain Vase 19th C. 24-inch! Top Quality! The Best!Superb 14.5" 19th C Chinese Porcelain Famille Rose Figures Calligraphy VaseSuperb Perfect Chinese Porcelain Wucai Fam-verte Vase 19th C. FloralStunning Antique Cloisonne Enamel Kinfisher & Flower Decorated Vase.Large Lot Of Chinese Wood Brush Pots And Cloisonne Vases And SealVery Fine 17" 19th C Chinese Porcelain Canton / Famille Verte Porcelain VaseLarge Chinese Porcelain Famille Verte Floor Vase Signed 64cm 25" Kangxi MarkUnusual Large Chinese Porcelain Colored Vase 19th C. Birds + BatsGroup Of Three Pieces Of Old Chinese Porcelain W Censer Vase Footed CupAmazing Chinese Porcelain Bottle-vase 'playing Children' Ca. 1940 Top Quality!Old 19thc~ Chinese Porcelian Poem Vase Famille Rose Qianlong Marked Four SidedSuperb Pair Of Chinese Porcelain Kangxi Period Blue & White Vases, Long ElizaLarge Chinese Blue And White Vase And Old Celadon Glazed VaseLarge Lot Of Old Japanese Vases Boxes Plates Satsuma Hirado Cloisonne LacquerPair Of Chinese Porcelain Yen Yen Vases Painted With LandscapesAntique 19thc Chinese Blue & White Porcelain Gu Beaker Vase Kangxi Mark C1880Huge Chinese Porcelain Coloured Vase 19th C. 'birds' Quality! 58cm - 23-inchLarge Lot Of Chinese Porcelain Including Bowls Vases Flambe Blue And White EtcAntique Chinese Lions Heads Carved Bamboo Censer / Insence Burner Vase C.1880A Large Chinese Porcelain Wucai Vase Withe Cover Shunzhi 1700 CenturyPerfect Fine Chinese Porcelain Bottle Vase 18th C. Floral Top!Antique Chinese Porcelain Vase Kangxi Artemisia MarkYixing Bird On Branch Poem Vase Buff Yellow Bamboo Cane Colour Signed 3 Piece Lot Of Chinese Asian Bronze Censers Vases3 Pc Lot Chinese Porcelain Celadon Bottle Vase Robins Egg And Wucai Planter19th C. Chinese Enamel Sleeve Vase With Figural Landscape Scenes, Poem Script 18th - 19thc Antique ~ Large Chinese Porcelian 'flambe' Red Vase Large Perfect Mirrored Pair Chinese Porcelain Vases Ca. 1930 RepublicChinese Famille Rose Vase And Cover Yongzheng Qianlong 18thcPair Of Antique 19thc Chinese Blue & White Porcelain Sleeve VasesLarge Chinese Famille Rose Bottle Vase Painted With FiguresGood 19th C Chinese Porcelain Yellow Ground Dragons Tulip VaseRare Red Fine Silver Wire Antique Japanese Meiji Cloisonne Vase **signedChina 1300's-1500's Yuan Ming Cizhuo Calligraphy Scholar Style Pottery Vase YqzWonderful Old Japanese Vase With Enamel Decoration - Very Rare Design - L@@kLarge Lot Of Old Chinese Porcelain Vases Boxes Bowls EtcLot Of Three Old Chinese Japanese Porcelain Vases Pair Of Chinese Blue & White Prunus Blossom Porcelain Baluster Vases Temple JarAntique Pair Of Japanese Satsuma Kutani Vases With Geisha Scenes, Circa 1900!!Antique Chinese Pale Celadon Glazed Vase, Qianlong Mark & Possibly Of PeriodMagnificent Antique Famille Rose Large Polychrome Porcelain Vase ChinaAntique Cantonese Oriental Chinese Porcelain Vase - Unusual!Pair Of Large 34cm Chinese Famille Rose Vases, Dream Of The Red ChamberLot Of Old Chinese Porcelain Including Vases And Bowl With FiguresLarge Impressive Pair Of Chinese Yellow Monochrome VasesAntique Chinese Porcelain Jar Vase With Wood Stand And Enemaled PlaqueGood 25cm Chinese Canton Famille Rose Medallion Vase 19th C #10Japanese Vintage Signed Dragon Bronze Vase With Original Presentation BoxPair Antique Chinese Famile Rose Porcelain Square Vases By Pan ZhaotangGood Chinese 18th C Antique Polychrome Porcelain Vase Marked Yongzheng Yw547Large Chinese Antique 18th C Famille Verte Porcelain Baluster Vase Mark Yw548Large Lot Of Chinese Porcelain And Other Items W Vases Cups Plates EtcVintage Pair Of Chinese Cloisonn