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    

Chinese Spinach Green Nephrite Jade Gu Vase, Taotie Mask Design, 18/19th CenturyAntique 19c. Chinese CloisonnChinese Famille Rose Mandarin Vase Qianlong Circa 1750Chinese Jadeite Jade Vase, Carved Chain, Chilong Dragons & Phoenix, Early 20th CAntique 18c Korean Blue & White Porcelain Dragon VaseAntique Chinese Qing Dynasty Famille Noir Porcelain Vase With StandPair Antique 18th Century Chinese Monochrome Blue Porcelain Covered Jar Vases 19thc Antique Pair Chinese Export Rose Medallion Porcelain Vases ... No Reserve!Chinese Famille Rose Mandarin Vase Qianlong Circa 1760 RestoredLarge Chinese Celadon Nephrite Jade Double Citron Vase (buddha's Hand), 20th C.Rare & Impressive 19thc Famille Verte Wucai Vase, Chinese Antiques PorcelainAntique Vietnamese Hoi An Hoard Blue & White Porcelain Bottle VaseAntique Chinese Carved Hardwood Openwork Round Display Vase Stand Rare Chinese With Figures Jar Vase TeapotAntique 19c Chinese Famille Verte Porcelain Floor Vase Lot Of 26 Antique Chinese Japanese Carved Hardwood Round Vase Display StandsAntique Dated 1874 Chinese Japanese Asian Bronze Archaistic Gu Form Vase Beautiful Japanese Meiji? Kingfisher Vase With Makers MarkBeautiful Chinese Famille Rose Moon Flask Vase, Marked23 Antique Chinese Japanese Carved Hardwood Diminutive Vase Display StandsPair 19th Century Chinese Yen Yen Porcelain Blue White Opposing Porcelain VasesA Pair Of Chinese Canton Famille Verte Figural Vases Wth Lion Handles Qing 19thcChinese Green Celadon Glazed Porcelain Vase Elephant Handles12 Antique Chinese Japanese Carved Hardwood Vase Display StandsLarge & Fabulous Antique Chinese 18th C. Kangxi (1662-1722) Porcelain Vase Fine Large Antique Chinese Celadon & Blue Foo Dog Baluster Porcelain Vase Antique Chinese Qing Dynasty Porcelain Monochrome Blue VaseChinese Porcelain Clair De Lune Glazed Bottle Vase On Three Feet Yongzheng MarkVery Fine Silver Wire Antique Japanese Meiji Cloisonne Vase W/ Maple *signedAntique Chinese Carved Dragon Jade Vase Late 19th CenturyBest Antique Chinese Heavily Potted Robins Egg Blue Porcelain Baluster Vase Extremely Fine Pair Of Large Antique Islamic Indian Solid Silver Vases 1408 GramChinese Vase Imperial TasteAntique 19th Century Chinese 3 Piece Blue & White Porcelain Garniture Vase SetAntique Chinese Ox Blood Flambe Yen Yen Porcelain VaseLarge Chinese 18c Qing Period Blue And White Porcelain Vase Marked Lc454 Very Nice Chinese Republic Period Imperial Figure Famille Rose Vase SignedChinese Yixing VaseAntique Chinese Qing Dynasty Famille Noir Bottle Form Porcelain Vase With BaseBeautiful Japanese Meiji? Pigeon Blood - Iris Cloisonne VasePair Chinese Antique Famille Rose Porcelain Wall Vases, Qing Dynasty Antique Fine Silver Wire Japanese 7" Cloisonne Dragon Vase *signed18th-19th C. Chinese Carved Grey Green Jadeite Vase And CoverAntique Chinese Qing Dynasty Fine Famille Rose 18" Porcelain Vase A Lovely 19c. Chinese Famille Rose Porcelain Phoenix Vase*qianlong MarkAntique 19th C. Chinese Carved Agate Stone Brush Washer Pot Scholars Vase 3 1/4"A Pair Of Unique Kangxi Famille Verte Lion Handled Vase (康熙五彩兽耳六面方平)Antique Japanese Totai Cloisonne Vase W/ Birds And Flowers Enamel On Porcelain Rare Superb Chinese Amethyst Vase Flower Cover - 19th C.Antique Chinese VasesChinese Antique Kangxi Blue And White Pair Vase Set (康熙青花花瓶一组)Antique Chinese 19th C Polychrome Porcelain Vase Marked Xiangfeng Ne055Rare Large 19th C Chinese Kangxi Wucai Famille Rose Verte Porcelain Jar VasePair Chinese Famille Rose Crackleware Vases 19c Circa 1870Antique Rare Japanese Bronze Vase 19th Century MarkedLarge Antique 19 Century Chinese Carved Hardstone Censor VaseWonderful Antique Chinese Qing Dynasty Monochrome Yellow Vase Chinese Guangxu Imperial Famille Rose Porcelain Vase - Yellow Ground BaijixiangUnusual Chinese Famille Rose Porcelain Vase, Scrolling Lotus, 19th CenturyA Large Antique Chinese Vase,guangxu Mark ,19th Century