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    

Superb 14.5" 19th C Chinese Porcelain Famille Rose Figures Calligraphy VaseSuperb Pair Of Chinese Porcelain Kangxi Period Blue & White Vases, Long ElizaHuge Large Antique 19thc Chinese Canton Famille Rose Porcelain Vase & Stand QingVery Fine 17" 19th C Chinese Porcelain Canton / Famille Verte Porcelain VaseGood 19th C Chinese Porcelain Yellow Ground Dragons Tulip VaseLarge Lot Of Chinese Wood Brush Pots And Cloisonne Vases And SealLarge Lot Of Old Japanese Vases Boxes Plates Satsuma Hirado Cloisonne LacquerMassive Antique Chinese 19th Century Canton Famille Rose Vase * 18.25 Inches *Chinese Famille Rose Vase And Cover Yongzheng Qianlong 18thcSuperb Large 15" Chinese Famille Rose Vase 19th Century / Republic CalligraphySuperb Chinese Famille Rose Horse Porcelain Vase Republic Qianlong JingdezhenLarge Chinese Blue And White Vase And Old Celadon Glazed VaseChinese Signed Fish Vase Flambe Red Vases Qianlong Cup Dragon Scholars Seal BoxGroup Of Three Pieces Of Old Chinese Porcelain W Censer Vase Footed CupFine 13.75" 18th C Chinese Porcelain Famille Rose Birds On Flowering Branch VaseLarge Chinese Famille Rose Bottle Vase Painted With Figures3 Piece Lot Of Chinese Asian Bronze Censers VasesLarge Lot Of Chinese Porcelain Including Bowls Vases Flambe Blue And White EtcRare Pair Antique Japanese Satsuma Vases Signed "sozan" Kinkozan Artist, Monkeys3 Pc Lot Chinese Porcelain Celadon Bottle Vase Robins Egg And Wucai PlanterPair Of Chinese Porcelain Yen Yen Vases Painted With LandscapesLot Of Three Old Chinese Japanese Porcelain Vases Lot Chinese Blue Green Yellow Glazed Jars Vases Bronze Rabbit Cinnabar JarLot Of Old Chinese Porcelain Including Vases And Bowl With FiguresEstatelot Rare Early Chinese Ming Dynasty Blue White Lotus Jar Vase Scholars PotMeiji Taisho Cloisonne Silver Enamel Ginbari Poppy Small Vase - Matsu-ya YqzEstate Lot Chinese Signed Republic Famille Rose Platter Tray Vase Figures BowlLarge Lot Of Chinese Porcelain And Other Items W Vases Cups Plates EtcTwo Chinese Porcelain Vases Including Famille Rose And MonochromeLarge Lot Of Old Chinese Porcelain Vases Boxes Bowls EtcSuperb Large 18" Chinese Transitional Style 19th Century Blue And White VaseLarge & Rare Antique Chinese Kangxi 1662-1722 Clobbered Wine Flask / Vase Estate Lot Chinese Turquoise Blue Glazed Vases Kangxi Signed Peachbloom Vase Large Chinese Mirror Black And Gilt Vase With Blue And White Prunus JarFine Old Chinese Chicken Liver Clay Yixing Pottery Vase W/ Poem SignedLot Of Two Old Chinese Asian Bronze VasesAntique Chinese Porcelain Jar Vase With Wood Stand And Enemaled PlaqueLot Chinese Carved Cinnabar Lacquer Figural Scenic Vases Covered Crane Box JarLarge Impressive Pair Of Chinese Yellow Monochrome VasesLarge Lot Chinese Wood Bronze Vases Buddha Bell Immortal Figure Censer BowlGood Large 11" 19th C Chinese Porcelain Precious Objects Prunus Vase And CoverQuality Antique Chinese 19th Century Famille Rose Canton Bottle Shaped VaseAntique Chinese Millefiori Famille Rose Vase On Rosewood Stand, 19th CenturyThree Large Chinese Porcelain Vases Of Various Design Rare Chinese Guangxu Period White Porcelain Vase Wang Bingrong Marked Lc275Beautiful Antique Miji Period Japanese Carp Decorated Cloisonne VaseC1890 Chinese Peking Glass White & Green Vase W/ Rooster & Flowers No ReserveAntique Chinese Yellow Enamel Vase,bats & Flowers Decoration, Signed C.1910!! Stunning 5" Fishnet Cloisonne Enamel Vase, 3 Birds In Flight Inside Net, RareSuperb Antique Chinese Late Ming Hatcher Shipwreck Cargo Porcelain Vase - C1643Good 19th Century Carved Hardwood Vase Stand - Indian / Burmese / ChineseBeautiful Antique Miji Period Signed Japanese Cloisonne VaseVery Interesting Oriental Double Gourd Vase - Various Character Marks -very RareChinese Famille Rose Moon Flask Dragon Vase Verte Fu Lion Blue White Prunus Jar Stunning Antique Japanese CloisonnAntique Qianlong Chinese Export Porcelain Vase, Excellent Painted Scenes, 18th CLarge Vintage Japanese Handpainted Satsuma VaseLot Chinese Iron Splashed Vase Crackle Glazed Cups Bowl Yixing Ware Wine TeapotAntique Beautiful Miji Period Signed Japanese Cloisonne VaseLarge 18c Qing Kangxi Period Polychrome Porcelain Bottle Vase Marked Lc266