Generally speaking, the metal, stone, wood, and ceramic bowls made throughout Asia over the last several hundred years are simpler in shape and decoration than vases of the same period. That's because bowls are more purely functional than vases, meant to hold foods such as noodles or soup, designed primarily to be used rather than admired. Which is not to say their forms cannot be beautiful, as anyone who has eaten out of a steep-sided, bullet-shaped bowl or a wide, footed saucer knows.

Ceramic bowls range from porcelain to red clay. Glazing treatments include intricately decorative and pictorial compositions featuring dragons, lions, flowers, fruits, and gourds. Others are virtuoso exercises in color, be it a classic celadon container, a copper-red orb accented by a white lip wrap, or a flambe treatment, in which the glaze seems to be ignited from below.

One pattern that became particularly popular in China and was made exclusively for export in the 1850s is still known as rose medallion. It’s characterized by a gold circle enclosing a bird and flower in the inside-center of the bowl, surrounded by scenic panels set within floral borders. Other versions of this motif include, rose mandarin, rose canton, cabbage, and bird and butterfly.

In Japan, blue-and-white Imari porcelain bowls, some lidded, some not, were produced alongside red, gold, and blue examples. While most of these bowls were meant to hold food, wider examples with half-circle notches carved into their rims were used by barbers, who would rest the bowls against the necks of their customers to catch the hair they were trimming. Satsuma bowls made for export to the West in the 19th century included square bowls with tapering sides, decorated inside and out. And for hundreds of years, hand-formed raku ware has been the ceramic of choice for tea bowls, which are differentiated from tea cups for their lack of handles.

In Tibet, bowls can serve another purpose. Tibetan singing bowls are technically bells thought to bring healing through their tones and vibrations. Used in Buddhist meditation, antique singing bowls are made of a bronze alloy that includes copper, tin, nickel, silver, gold, and zinc. A good singing bowl makes several tones at once, which careful listeners can discern.

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    

Antique Chinese 18th Century Yongzheng Porcelain Famille Rose Bowl PlateAntique Chinese Song Dynasty Oil Spot Glaze Jian Tenmoku Tea Bowl Rare 26cm Chinese 18th C Qianlong Famille Rose Meissen Porcelain Punch Bowl VaseA Very Rare Straits Peranakan Nonyaware Surname Bowl With Makers Mark17th / 18th Century Chinese Cloisonne Enamel BowlSuperb! Pair Antique Chinese Blue And White Porcelain Vase Tea Bowl Kangxi 18thcPair Antique Chinese Blue And White Porcelain Moulded Plate Bowl Kangxi 18th CA Very Fine & Perfect 19th Century Famille Noir Bowl & Cover With Kangxi MarkChinese Ru Ware BowlAntique Chinese 19th Famile Rose Floral Bowl Lingzhi Fungus MarkChinese Celadon Song Style Petal Bowl Moulded DecorationFine Antique Indian Solid Silver Bowl In Lotus Flower Form - C1900 - Kashmir Beautiful Chinese Porcelain Wu Shuang Pu Bowl&saucer.19th C.daoguang Marked!Rare Fine Chinese Porcelain B/w Bowl&cover With Figures.18th C.yongzheng Marked!A Very Fine Peranakan Straits Nonyaware Desert Bowl With MarkFine Antique Indian Solid Silver Sugar Bowl Tea Set - C1900 - Kashmir Rare Large Chinese Qianlong Blue & White Bowl With 4 Character Mark Very FineV-large 30cm Antique Chinese Canton Famille Rose Porcelain Vase Punch Bowl QingChinese Yellow-glazed Bowl19th Chinese Antique Famille Rose Bowl E643Song Dynasty Chinese Antique Dingyao Lobed Bowl E810Antique Chinese Ming 16th/17thc Blue & White Porcelain Dragon BowlAntique Chinese Ming Wucai Dragon & Phoenix Porcelain Bowl - Swatow 16th/17thcAntique Chinese Export Blue And White Porcelain Flower Plate Bowl 18th CLarge Japanese Meiji Abalone Shell Form Satsuma Samurai Bowl - SignedChinese Antique South Song Dynasty Junyao Bowl E674Antique Chinese Kangxi (1662-1722) Famille Verte Porcelain Tea BowlMing Dynasty Chinese Antique Blue Glaze Stem Bowl E747 G144: Korean Old Goryeo Dynasty Style Blue Porcelain Bowl Of Peach Shape 18th Chinese Antique Yaobian Green Glazed Porcelain Bowl E756Kn3: Japanese Tenmoku Tea Bowl By Great Human Cultural Treasure, Shinobu KatoQianlong Marked Dragon Bowl Antique Chinese PorcelainBeautiful Chinese 19 C Antique Oriental Porcelain Famille Rose Dish Tea Bowl SetKc3: Vintage Japanese Tea Bowl, Raku Ware, Red & Black, Wabi Sabi Taste19th Century Chinese Blue And White Tea Bowl C20th Chinese Red Ground Rice Bowl Stand And Cover Decorated With PicturesChinese Antique Jin Dynasty Junyao Tea Bowl E656Fine Antique 18thc Chinese Famille Noire Porcelain Tea Bowl & SaucerG338: Chinese Blue Porcelain Tea Bowl With Good Atmosphere.Pretty 18th C Chinese Qianlong Famille Rose Mandarin Porcelain Tea Bowl Cup VaseLovely Chinese Antique 18thc Qianlong Tea Bowl And Saucer - Famille RoseFabulous Chinese Famille Rose Punch Bowl Circa 1745Chinese Export 18th Century Famille Rose Punch BowlGj6: Japanese Tea Bowl, Raku Ware By 1st Class Potter, Shoraku Sasaki, Kuro RakuChinese Handpainted Rice Bowl SignedChinese Song Style Jizhou Leaf BowlKm7: Vintage Japanese Pottery Tea Bowl Of Shino Ware, Light Gray GlazeG341: Chinese Pottery Ware Tea Bowl With Black Glaze W/box.Ko4: Japanese Tea Bowl, Hagi Ware By Famous Potter, Seigan Yamane, Seigan BlueVintage Chinese Jun Ware Peach Bowl G158: Korean Joseon-dynasty Style Pottery Tea Bowl With Popular Amamori GlazeEx Large Famille Rose Medallion Serving Bowl Hand Paint "made In China" AntiqueKk4: Japanese Tea Bowl, Raku Ware By 1st Class Potter, Kugyo Ono, Mt. FujiV-fine Chinese Tongzhi 1862-74 Antiques Porcelain Famille Rose Tea Bowl SetLarge Size 13cm Chinese 19th C Canton Famille Rose Porcelain Bowl Pot & Lid VaseA Chinese Blue And White Porcelain Bowl With Landscape Decoration, SignedG076: Chinese Pottery Tea Bowl Of Popular Tenmoku-chawan With Appropriate WorkKo6: Japanese Tea Bowl, Hagi Ware By Famous Seigan Yamane, Artistic Glazes G058: Chinese Pottery Ware Bowl With Very Good Glaze As Kashiki Ko7 Japanese Tea Bowl, Hagi Ware By Famous Potter, Seigan Yamane, Artistic Glaze