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    

Antique Chinese Famille Verte Porcelain Jar Vase With Animals - Kangxi PeriodVery Fine Antique Chinese Shallow Carved Jade Hu Form Vase- PublishedExceptional Antique Chinese Blue And White Porcelain Jar Vase - Kangxi PeriodStunning Huge Chinese Porcelain Transitional Bottle Vase 17th C. Chongzheng 53cmFantastic Pair Antique Chinese Large Cloisonne Ku Vases 19thc Or Earlier Large Old Chinese Carved Jade Gu Form Vase W Shallow Carved Design - PublishedSuperb Chinese Porcelain Transitional Bottle Vase Lamp Mounted 17th C. ChongzhenLarge Pair Of Celadon Glazed Chinese Porcelain Hu Vases - Guangxu Mark + PeriodAntique Chinese Late Qing / Republic Period Famille Rose Vase Pair Figures FineAntique Chinese Carved Rock Crystal Covered Vase With Chilongs Beautiful Antique Japanese Cloisonne Vase Meiji Period With Birds And Flowers3 Pc Lot Of Antique Chinese Blanc De Chine Porcelain Vases Censer Libation CupSuperb Chinese Porcelain B/w Transitional Vase 17th C. Top! ChongzhenVery Rare Chinese Porcelain Colored Pelgrim Vase 19th C. Qianlong MarkedLarge Antique Chinese Blue And Gilt Bottle Vase - Guangxu Mark And PeriodAntique Chinese 20th Century Republic Period Incised Vase Pair Qianlong MarkAmazing Perfect Reflecting Chinese Porcelain Vases 19th C. Top Quality! The BestPair Of Carved Chinese Jade Jadeite Vases Withflowers And BirdsFinely Painted Antique Famille Verte Porcelain Vase Jar W Scene Of Figures - 18cBeautiful Large Antique Chinese Langyao Glazed Vase - Kangxi / QianlongPair Of Huge Old Chinese Cloisonne Bottle Vases W Nine Peach Design Very Unusual And Rare Antique Chinese Carved Amber Vase In Silver MountOld Chinese Enameled Porcelain Famille Jaune Meiping Vase W Jiaqing MarkPerfect Large Chinese Porcelain Flambe Ox Blood Bottle Vase 19th C. Top!Nice Antique Chinese Transitional Wucai Vase With Figures Late 17th CRare Pair Antique Chinese Rose Mandarin Pistol Handled Urns Vases W Great ColorGorgeous Large Antique Chinese Famille Rose Mandarin Moon Flask VaseLarge And Beautifully Painted Mirror Pair Chinese Porcelain Republic VasesLarge Mirror Pair Of Antique Japanese Imari Vases By FukagawaWonderful Antique Chinese Carved Celadon Glazed Small Jar Vase - Ming DynastySuperb Quality Chinese Carved White Jade Hanging Vase With StandAntique 18c Chinese Blanc De Chine Vase W Both Relief And Incised DecorationAntique Chinese C1900 Celadon Glazed Cong Vase Late Qing/ Early RepublicVery Nice Antique Chinese Kangxi Period Blue And White Prunus Jar Vase W CoverFine Mirror Pair Of Old Chinese Porcelain Famille Rose Republic Vases W MarksChinese Porcelain Bottle Vase With Colorful Enameled Dragons And Jiaqing MarkAntique Japanese Cloisonne Enamel Vase - Kumeno Teitaro - Ex. ConditionLarge Antique Chinese Cylindrical Vase With Relief Decoration Of Various ObjectsRare Small Chinese Porcelain 'hu' Vase 19th C. 'grisaille' CalligraphyBeautiful Antique 19c Chinese Blanc De Chine Relief Decorated Hu Form VaseLarge Antique Chinese Famille Jaune Relief Decorated Umbrella Stand VaseBeautiful Old Chinese Framed Silk Embroidery Textile With Vases Flowers EtcAntique Chinese 19th Century Claire De Lune Bottle Vase Large LampedPerfect Large Chinese Porcelain Wucai Vase 19th Century Figures Quality!Antique Chinese 19th Century Famille Rose Enamel Vase With Figures QualityGood Quality Ando Japanese Cloisonne Vase With DoveExtremely Fine Quality Antique Persian Islamic Solid Silver Hallmarked Vase 314gLovely Antique Chinese Bronze Vase Joss Stick Holder On Back Of Foo Lion - 18cChinese Celadon Crackle Glazed Hu Vase No ReserveAntique 18c Chinese Carved Porcelain Vase With Light Celadon Glaze And StandLarge Perfect Chinese Porcelain Famille-rose Beaker Vase 18th C. QianlongGood Quality Cloisonne Vase With Sailing Junk / Red Seal ShipAntique Chinese 19th Century Famille Verte Porcelain Vase Mythical BeastsAntique Carved Chinese Japanese Hardwood Wood Stand For Vase Bowl Qing MeijiFine Quality Mid 19c Antique Chinese Famille Rose Medallion Covered VaseAntique Chinese C1900 Sang De Boeuf Bottle Vase Late Qing/ Early RepublicAntique Chinese 19th Century Famille Rose Yellow Ground Molded Vase TreasuresPerfect Fine Chinese Porcelain Famille-rose Vase 18th C. RoosterPerfect Fine Chinese Porcelain Famille-verte Vase 19th C. Birds 36cmLarge Pair 28cm Chinese 18th C Qianlong Mandarin Famille Rose Porcelain Vase