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    

Rare Antique Suyun Daoren 1891 Chinese Famille Rose Porcelain Meiping VaseAn Underglazed-blue And Copper-red "figures" Chinese Wall Vase.with Frame.Beautiful Early Chinese Hu Vase - Peach Bloom - Kien Lung Period - Sang De BoeufRare Antique Chinese Famille Rose Porcelain Calligraphy Large Vase Fine QualityAntique Chinese Huge Cloisonne Gilt Bronze Vase, Qing Dynasty, Provenance. Rare.Large Antique Chinese Porcelain Famille Rose Yenyen Phoenix Tail Vase Kangxi Top! Pair H32cm Antique Chinese Wucai Vases 19th Century Famille Verte PorcelainPair Large 39cm Antique Chinese Blue And White Porcelain Vase Cover 19thc XuandeV-large Antique 19th C Chinese Porcelain Famille Verte Fish Bowl Vase Jardinere Antique Chinese 18th / 19th Century Ge Type Crackle Glazed Globular VaseLarge Antique Chinese Porcelain Famille Verte Kilin Dragon Vase 19th C KangxiGood Antique Chinese Blue And White Porcelain Figure Vase Jar 19th C Kangxi MarkAntique Large Chinese Porcelain Vase With Roosters Chickens Kangxi Qianlong QingAntique Chinese Huge Cloisonne Gilt Bronze Vase, Qing Dynasty, Provenance. Fine.Vfine Antique Chinese Porcelain Famille Verte Blue White Vase Cover 17thc KangxiChinese Vase Guan Ge Crackle Glaze Porcelain Antique 19th Century Qing Chenghua18th/19thc Antique Large Chinese Porcelain Famille Rose Vase Qianlong 19th Century Chinese Sacrificial Blue-glazed Porcelain Vase.Antique Japanese Cloisonne Vase With Dragons & Phoenix, Makers Mark, Meiji, FineChinese Antique Gu / Zun Vase Ru Ware Pale Celadon Qing / Republic Very Fine 18th Century Chinese Flambe-glazed Porcelain Vase.Very Large 48cm Chinese 19th C Famille Rose Medallion Wash Basin Punch Bowl VaseV-fine Antique 18thc Chinese Porcelain Blue And White Iron-red Vase Tureen CoverAntique Chinese Porcelain Vase Painted Geisha Lady~asian Signed Genuine Antique Chinese Blue & White Bottle Vase Fruit Decorated 7.5" High NrA Pair Of Chinese Blue & White Bird Rouleau Vases Kangxi Mark 19thc QingPair Old Japanese Cloisonné Enamel Vases Aesthetic Movement 19th CenturyV-large Antique Chinese Porcelain Blue And White Prunes Jar Vase Cover 19th CChinese Celadon Reverse-decorated “white Flowers”vase.qianlong Period.Beautiful Shaped 16cm Small 18th C Chinese Qianlong Famille Rose Porcelain Vase Finest 18th C Chinese Qianlong Famille Rose Mandarin Porcelain Jug Pitcher Vase Japanese/chinese Porcelain VaseThree Good Antique And Chinese Carved Hardwood Vase Figure StandsGood Pair Of Antique Japanese Porcelain Meiji Satsuma Vases. C1890.Superb Large Antique Chinese Blue And White Dragon Vase Xuande Mark 19th CenturyChinese Porcelain Famille Verte Vase & Cover Painted With Horses 19/20thcAntique Chinese Hard Wood Vase Display Stand 17cm WideAntique Chinese Hard Wood Vase Display Stand X10Large Chinese Kangxi Mark 19th Century Monochrome Green Porcelain VaseRare Antique Chinese Famille Rose Porcelain Scholar Scene Vase Fine QualityChinese Large Baluster Vase Kangxi Style Signed Guangxu Area Qing DynastyAntique Chinese Celadon Large Funerary Vase Song DynastyQuality Japanese Meiji Period Cloisonne Enamel Cockerel Vase By Miwa TomisaburoGood Antique Chinese Famille Rose Porcelain Vase.Small 10cm Chinese 19th C Famille Rose Mandarin Medallion Porcelain Teapot Vase Fine 18th C Chinese Qianlong Blue And White Porcelain Platter Plate Dish Vase #1Antique Chinese Small Blue White Porcelain Gu Vase Kangxi Mark 19/20th CenturyAntique Chinese Hard Wood Vase Displat Stands X 3Fine 18th C Chinese Qianlong Blue And White Porcelain Platter Plate Dish Vase #2Vintage/antique Chinese Wood Vase Stand/bases.over 40 Pieces.Quality Japanese Meiji Period Cloisonne Enamel Cockerel Vase By Miwa TomisaburoAntique Chinese Hardwood Vase Stand 15cm Internal DiameterAntique Chinese Hard Wood Square Vase Stand Rare Japanese Cloisonne 4 Sided Sea Green 3 Koi Fish Seaweed Vase SignedFine Old China Chinese Carved Spinach Green Jade Urn Vase Sculpture ArtNice Old Chinese Carved Jade Vase Taotie Masks Ring HandlesA Magnificent Large Antique Japanese Fukagawa Porcelain Baluster Vase, SignedExcellent Quality Large & Heavy Japanese Cloisonne Enamel Angel Fish VaseOld Japanese Cloisonné Enamel On Copper Brown Vase Meji Period Bird On BranchPair Of Japanese Satsuma Miniature Vases On Shishi Lions - Meiji Period 19thc