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The evolution of blue and white porcelain

For centuries, porcelain wares with cobalt blue glazing have been a trademark of China. Though the association never wavered, Chinese blue and white porcelain has experienced many changes from dynasty to dynasty.

Cobalt glazing has been found in fragments as early as the 9th century, but the style did not become ubiquitous until the Yuan Dynasty in the 13th century, displaying motifs of lotus, vines, and dragons already common to other pottery of the time. (Encyclopaedia Britannica 2009)

The Ming dynasty saw many developments in the production of blue and white porcelain across its 3-century reign beginning with the development of methods of mass production.

Jingdezhen in northeast China became a manufacturing hub for imperial-grade wares, remaining a key contributor for most of the Ming dynasty, producing more refined wares with less aberration common to handbuilt products. (Encyclopaedia Britannica 2008)

Chinese Rare Imperial Blue Glazed Plate, Xuande period Sold for $16,000

The Ming dynasty also saw the first instances of stamping wares with the imperial mark in the Yongle period (1402-24) at first reserved only for pure white wares, or monochrome wares decorated with copper underglaze. Blue and white porcelain was considered too “vulgar” for court use at this time, and only became accepted a few decades later during the Xuande period (1425-35) when blue and white wares begin to bear imperial marks. (Encyclopaedia Britannica 2009)

The individual periods of the Ming dynasty had distinct styles, characterized by motifs and color. Notably, wares from the Zhengde period (1505-21) display Muslim influence, sometimes with Arabic inscriptions, as a result of the large presence of Muslim eunuchs in the emperor's court. Wares from the last half of the Ming dynasty can be identified by tints of green, blue, grey, and purple that varied between the Wanli and Chonzhen periods. (Encyclopaedia Britannica 2009)

Periods of unrest in China led to a decline in the quality of porcelain production in the 17th century, but the industry recovered in the Qing dynasty, exploring new colors and glazes while still producing blue and white porcelain with unprecedentedly precise detail. (Encyclopaedia Britannica 2009)

The aesthetic style of porcelain evolved alongside its form, with shapes being characteristic

of periods as well. In some instances, a piece was created in the form of one period and the aesthetic style of another as stylistic transitions take place, resulting in rare pieces that bridge periods.

Oakridge is pleased to offer one such vase in our recent Fine Asian Arts sale, lot 506, a blue and white vase from the 16th or 17th century adorned with a variety of painted motifs, including rocks and bamboo to the neck, and seasonal flowers painted to the body. Typical of Chongzhen period porcelains, the blue and white color of this vase is clear and vibrant, while the white ceramic has a faint green tint. However, its shape differs from Chongzhen porcelains, as it has a slim body and a narrow neck which would become known as a “willow leaf” shaped vase and not become popular until decades later during Emperor Kangxi’s rule in the Qing dynasty. (Bu 2014)


The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. "Jingdezhen." Encyclopaedia Britannica. Accessed September 13, 2022.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. "Chinese Pottery." Encyclopaedia Britannica. Accessed September 13, 2022.

Bu, Helen. "A Beginner’s Guide to Chinese Porcelain Vase Shapes." Artnet. July 14, 2014. Accessed September 13, 2022.

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