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    

Ex.rare C1740 Chinese Yongzheng Qianlong Famille Rose Eight Immortals Tulip VaseRare 17 Chinese Blanc De Chine Dehua Porcelain Leiwen Censer Vase Shunzhi KangxiInteresting 18/19thc Chinese Celadon Jade Scholars Boulder Brush Holder VaseVery Fine Chinese Spinach Jade Archaic Dragon Lidded Jar Vase Silver StandVery Fine Signed Chinese Qianlong Famille Rose Coral Enamel Wall VaseRare 17c Chinese Kangxi Blanc De Chine Dehua White Porcelain Figural Censer VaseAmazing Antique Chinese Root Form Vase Censer Jade Figure Vase Display StandSuperb 13/14c Chinese Yuan Ming Dynasty Longquan Celadon Glazed Pear Shape Vase19c Chinese Tibetan Orange Coral Turquoise Lapis Lazuli Silver Gold Censer VaseSuperb Chinese Carved Jade Archaic Fu Lion Figural Vase W Silver Inlaid StandFine 18/19c Chinese Signed Kangxi Mirror Black White Glazed Bottle Vase VermeerPair Auth. 17/18c Chinese Copper Red Flambe Glazed Vases Kangxi Yongzheng ReignRare 18/19thc Chinese Qing Imperial Yellow Crackle Glazed Bottle Vase VermeerAuth. 17thc Chinese Transitional Kangxi Blue White Bird Scenic Landscape VaseAuth. 17thc Chinese Ming Dynasty Wanli Wucai Enamel Porcelain Alter VaseFine 19th C Chinese Porcelain Famille Verte Figures Double Gourd VaseVery Fine Signed Chinese Qianlong Longquan Celadon Glazed Handled Hu VaseRare 18/19c Chinese Gold Silver Inlaid Archaic Bronze Handled Lidded Censer VaseFine 19th C Japanese Meiji Silver Wire Pink Cloisonne VaseVery Rare 18thc Chinese Green Eel Skin & White Glazed Bottle Vase Vermeer GriggsAntique Chinese Carved Jade Stone Lion Dragon Figural Lidded Tripod Censer VasePair Chinese Cloisonne Vases Blue Blue-green Ming Design On Bronze 19th CenturyFine C1650 Chinese Transitional Kangxi Blue White Lotus Bottle Vase Silver RimChinese Song Ming Dynasty Longquan Celadon Glaze Washer Dish Vase Lotus Wine CupGreat 18/19thc Chinese Famille Noire Verte Fu Lion Landscape Double Gourd VaseImportant Large Chinese Tang Dynasty 618-906 White Ding Glazed Jar VaseRare 17thc Chinese Blanc De Chine White Glazed Dragon Gourd Vase Wanli To KangxiFine 19thc Chinese Qing Blue And White Phoenix Bird Landscape Lidded Jar Vase18th C Chinese Porcelain Sang De Boeuf Flambe Bottle VaseRare Large 15thc Vietnam Ming Dynasty Hoi An Hoard Shipwreck Figural Jar VaseVery Fine 19thc Chinese Qing Famille Verte Bird Landscape Rouleau Vase VermeerFine Antique Chinese Blue Junyao Flambe Glazed Meiping VaseRich C1890 Chinese Guangxu Blue Cloisonne Enamel Wire Inlaid Lotus Bottle VaseVery Fine Signed Chinese Solid Bronze Miniature Tripod Footed Censer VaseEarly Chinese Carved Qingbai Glazed Pear Shape Vase Sung Yuan DynastyFine Antique Chinese Carved Jade Archaic Ring Handled Alter Vase W StandSuperb C1900 Signed Chinese Lao Tian Li Cloisonne Enamel Miniature Dragon VaseExrare 12c Chinese Southern Song Yuan Dynasty Longquan Celadon Glazed Arrow VaseVery Fine 15thc Chinese Ming Dynasty Shipwreck Blue White Beast Figural Jar VaseLarge Antique Japanese Satsuma Vase With Large Reserves Of Figures SignedEdo Meiji Japan Trade Export Arita Imari Temple Jar Foo Dog Lion Huge Vase YqzAntique Chinese Porcelain Bud Vase Sang De Boeuf Circa 1800 Very Rare 13/14thc Chinese Yuan Ming Dynasty Red White Glazed Pear Shape VaseAntique Chinese Small Porcelain Bud Vase Turquoise Circa 1800 Interesting Chinese Junyao Flambe Glazed Pear Shape Vase Song Yuan DynastyFine Large 19c Chinese Apple Green Crackle Glazed Porcelain Vase Vermeer GriggsGreat 18/19thc Chinese Spotted Deer W Ruyi Lotus Scholars Water Pot VaseFine 18th C Chinese Porcelain Blue And White Landscape Guglet Jug VaseFine Rare Chinese Celadon Glazed Carved Fish Handled Jar Vase Tang Han DynastyGreat 19thc Chinese Blue White Five Claw Dragon Phoenix Bitong Vase Qianlong MkVery Fine C1725 Chinese Yongzheng Ca Mau Shipwreck Blue White Kendi Vase EwerSigned Shimaoka Tatsuzo (1919-2007) Japanese Studio Pottery Bottle VaseLarge 17/18thc Chinese Mirror Black Glazed Gold Gilt Dragon Rouleau Vase KangxiHi Quality Very Very Fine Japanese Meiji CloisonnÉ Vase *4-sided, 360°Chinese Mirror Black And Gilt Porcelain Gu Vase 20.3cms Monochrome C18/19thEx.rare Large Song Yuan Dynasty Ding White Glazed Carved Foliate Rim VaseAntique Chinese Blue And White Chinese Vase 19thPair Rare 16thc Chinese Ming Dynasty Longquan Celadon Glazed Qilin Dragon VasesLarge 18thc Chinese Qianlong Blue White Magpie Bird Scenic Beaker Alter VaseRare 14/15thc Chinese Early Ming Dynasty Red White Lotus Brush Washer Pot Vase