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    

Fine 18th / 19th Century Antique Chinese Garlic Head Flambe Vase Large Mirrored Pair Chinese Porcelain Fam-rose Vases 19th C. Qianlong Mark 48cm!Chinese 18th C Export Qianlong Blue And White Fluted Porcelain Tea Caddy Vase Huge Perfect Chinese Porcelain Vase 19th C. Figures 60cm - 24-inchPair! Antique Straits Vases Moonflasks 19thc Chinese Porcelain Peranakan NyonyaPerfect Large Chinese Porcelain Wucai Vase 19th C. Animal Top!Beautiful Huge Chinese Porcelain Colored Vase 19th C. 25-inch - 63cm CalligraphyA Very Rare 17th Century Chinese Porcelain Transitional Wucai VaseVery Nice Antique Chinese Carved Smoky Quartz/crystal Vase And CoverSuperb Early 20c Chinese Celadon Jade Covered Vase, Inscribed Wood Box, N/rRare Antique Chinese Porcelain Powder Blue Garlic Mouth Bottle Vase Kangxi 1700A Large Vintage Qing 18th Century Chinese Antique Flambe Vase Perfect Pair Chinese Porcelain Lanterns Vases 19th C. Quality!A Great 19c. Chinese Blue And White Porcelain Vase Square Vase*38.5cmAntique Chinese Monochrome Blue Glaze Porcelain Vase W Chilong, MarkedA Famille-rose 'hundred Bats' Vase Guangxu Mark And PeriodFine Chinese Porcelain Fam-verte Wucai Vase 19th C. Phoenix2 Large Antique Finely Carved Chinese Hardwood Vase / Bowl StandsAntique Japanese Hand Painted Miniature Satsuma VasePerfect Large Chinese Porcelain B/w Vase + Cover 19th C. Kangxi Marked 43cm!Chinese Famille Verte Famille Jaune Vase Kangxi 18th/19thcFine 18th / 19th Century Antique Chinese Gilt Cloisonne VaseHuge Antique Nyonya Straits Vase 19thc Chinese Porcelain Peranakan Famille RoseA Late 19th C. Chinese Qianjiang Style Cong Vase, Poems And LandscapesKangxi Marked, V-fine Chinese Blue And White Jardiniere Vase Antiques PorcelainAntique Chinese Mid 19th Century Porcelain VasePair Of Republic Period Chinese Famille Rose Porcelain Vases W HandlesQuality Large 19thc Chinese Porcelain Famille Rose Vase Canton Rose MedallionAntique Chinese Carved Zitan Wood Root Display Stand Jade Vase HardwoodFine Old Japanese Yellow Cloisonne Bamboo Decorated Vase Signed NekkaStunning! Matching Pair Cloisonne Dragon Vases Chinese AntiquesLarge 30cm Chinese 19th C Kangxi Blue & White Circus Performers Porcelain Vase Very Fine 18th C Chinese Qianlong Export Blue White Porcelain Saucer Plate VaseSuperb Pair Of Chinese Export Famille Rose Nonya Ku Form Vases W Phoenix & PeonyAntique Pair 19th Century Chinese Famille Rose Vases Medallion Canton MandarinNice Pair Chinese Bronze Hexagonal Vases 17th/18th C. MingLarge 12" Japanese Sumida Gawa Square Elephant Vase Signed Ban - NiNice Pair Chinese Porcelain Fam-verte Vases + Covers 19th C. FiguresKangxi 18th Century Cafe Au Lait Famille Rose Chinese Porcelain Beaker VaseAntique Chinese Porcelain Graviata Baluster Vase, Qianlong Mark, Qing/ RepublicAntique Japanese Hand Painted Miniature Satsuma VaseSmall Republic Period Chinese Famille Rose Porcelain Vase, Jurentang MarkPerfect Fine Chinese Porcelain Powder-blue Vase + Cover 19th C. Kangxi MarkedPerfect Chinese Porcelain Hat Stand Vase Flower-vases 19th C. Calligraphy1000's-1200's China Song Era Miniature Bud Vase Spottd Temple Incense Holder YqzLarge Antique Chinese Porcelain Blue And White Tulip/crocus Vase.Pair Of Antique Chinese Cinnabar Vases, 19th CVery Rare Fine Quality Antique 18th/19thc Chinese Famille Vert Porcelain VaseLarge Perfect Pair Chinese Porcelain 'hunting' Vases 19th C. Marked 18-inchFine Antique Chinese Blue & White Crackle-glazed Porcelain Vase Foo Dog HandlesFine Old Japanese Bronze Lotus Lilly Pad Form Ikebana Flower VaseFine Chinese Porcelain Colored Vase 19th C. 14-inch Figures 35cmRare Antique Vintage Chinese/japanese Brass CloisonnÉ Incense/pot Pouri Vase/potRare Antique Chinese Famille Verte Porcelain Vase, Qing DynastyA Large Chinese Blue-white Vase, 19th Century.Super Vintage Japanese Cloisonne Vase With Flower Decoration SignedMixed Lot Of Antique Chinese Carved Wood Stands For Vase Or Jade DisplayAntique Japanese Meiji Satsuma Cabinet Vase Signed KinkozanLarge 19th C Chinese Kangxi Mark Blue And White Eliza Porcelain Tankard Cup VaseBeautiful Chinese Plique A Jour Archaic Style Vase W Fine Workmanship & Coloring