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Decorative Designs in Chinese Art 中国文物的纹饰

Fire Design 火纹
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Ming Dynasty

Blue and white porcelain 青花 is the most characteristically Chinese of all porcelain. It was first developed at Jingdezhen Kiln in the Tang and later mastered during the Yuan Dynasty. During the Yuan blue and white porcelain was made in limited quantities, mostly for export. The cobalt blue color was initially imported but later on mined within China from Leping in Jiangxi. However, during the Ming and Qing dynasties it became the most popular kind of porcelain. The Jingdezhen Kiln produced the highest quality and greatest volume of this kind of porcelain.

The vase below with a cloud and dragon design has an the characters “spring longevity” 寿 inscribed. The characters are written in Jiudie Script 九叠篆, literally, nine folded script, developed in the Sui and Tang for official seals.

Blue and white porcelain vase with cloud and dragon design
景德镇窑 洪武公元1368〜1398上海博物馆
Blue and white porcelain vase with cloud and dragon design
Jingdezhen Kiln, Hongwu Reign, Ming Dynasty (1403—1424), Shanghai Museum

During the Yuan Dynasty there was a great deal of cultural exchange with the Middle East The shape of the oblate flask below is inspired by Islamic silverware.

Blue and white oblate flask with camellia design
景德镇窑 永乐公元1403〜1424上海博物馆
Blue and white oblate flask with camellia design
Jingdezhen Kiln, Yongle Reign, Ming Dynasty (1403—1424), Shanghai Museum

The plate below shows a design with two phoenixes.

phoenix design
景德镇窑 宣德(1426〜1435) 上海博物馆
Blue and white porcelain dish with two phoenixes
Jingdezhen Kiln, Xuan De Reign, Ming Dynasty (1426—1435), Shanghai Museum

The qilin sometimes called a Chinese unicorn 麒麟 is a mythical animal associated with good luck. The qilin below decorates a blue and white porcelain plate.

Porcelain plate with unicorn gazing at the moon
永乐公元1403〜1424苏州博物馆
Porcelain plate with unicorn gazing at the moon
Zhengtong Reign, Ming Dynasty (1403—1424), Suzhou Museum

The blue color was obtained from adding cobolt to the glaze. The blue underglaze was applied first and then a clear glaze applied over the top. It was fired in a single time at a high temperature. The plate shown below, also from Jingdezhen Kiln, has two lions playing with a ball, a symbol of power.

Blue and white porcelain plate with two lions playing with a ball
景德镇 世纪中期上海博物馆
Blue and white porcelain plate with two lions playing with a ball
Jingdezhen, mid-fifteenth century, Shanghai Museum

The plate below was created with a brown on white glazed 酱色 technique, which was developed during the Xuan De reign (1426—1435) of the Ming. A floral design 花果纹 decorates the plate.

a floral design
宣德(1426〜1435) 北京首都博物馆
Plate with Brown on White Glazed Floral Design
Xuan De Reign, Ming Dynasty (1426—1435), Capital Museum, Beijing

The sea has symbolized beauty, hope, and wisdom in Chinese thought. For example, the Eighty Eight Buddhas Repentance Text 八十八佛忏悔文 contains the words “wisdom like an ocean” 智慧.

Blue and white porcelain plate with sea wave and lucky animal deisgn
成化公元1465〜1487苏州博物馆
Blue and white porcelain plate with sea wave and lucky animal deisgn
Chenghua Reign, Ming Dynasty (1465-1487), Suzhou Museum

During the Yuan Dynasty the ruling Mongols had an empire that stretched from China to Europe and trade expanded greatly. During this period most of the highest quality porcelain ended up outside of China. The Topkapi Palace in Turkey houses the largest collection of Yuan Dynasty blue and white porcelain in the world. Interestingly, most of the blue cobolt coloring was imported from West Asia. Export of porcelain on a large scale continued in the Ming and Qing dynasties. The plate below with Arabic text was probably intended for export to the West Asia.

Dish with red Arabic text on a white background
景德镇窑 正德公元1506〜1521) 上海博物馆
Dish with red Arabic text on a white background
Jingdezhen Kiln, Zhengde Reign, Ming Dynasty (1506—1521), Shanghai Museum

The plate shown below has a tree with trunk and branches in the shape of a very stylized longevity character shou 寿.

Wucai plate with shou character design
嘉靖(1521〜1566) 苏州博物馆
Wucai plate with shou character design
Jiajing Reign, Ming Dynasty (1521—1566), Suzhou Museum

The porcelain censer below was glazed with a doucai 斗彩 process, which is a overglaze technique (see below) used in the Ming. The eight trigrams 八卦 design has roots deep in Chinese mythology.

doucai
嘉靖(1521〜1566) 北京首都博物馆
Doucai censer with eight trigrams design
Jiajing Reign, Ming Dynasty (1521—1566), Capital Museum, Beijing

The plate below shows a wucai (five colored) design, which refers to a method for applying the glaze. This was an overglaze technique, meaning that the artwork was applied over the top of the glaze in addition to outlines created with underglaze outlines. In blue and white porcelain, where the artwork is painted below the glaze with only underglaze. Overglaze porcelain uses a lower firing temperature, from 750 to 900 degrees Celsius. Wucai porcelain began to become popular in the mid to late Ming.

Porcelain plate with wucai butterfly design and chrysanthemum petals
景德镇窑 万历公元1573〜1620上海博物馆
Porcelain plate with wucai butterfly design and chrysanthemum petals
Jingdezhen Kiln, Wanli Reign, Ming Dynasty (1573—1620), Shanghai Museum

The butterfly is a beautiful insect and a symbol of felicity. The chrysanthemum is a popular flower in China and used in tea and Chinese medicine. It is an emblem of mid-Autumn and a symbol of joviality.

Blue and white porcelain plate with lotus petal design and Sanskrit text
景德镇窑 万历公元1573〜1620上海博物馆
Blue and white porcelain plate with lotus petal design and Sanskrit text
Jingdezhen Kiln, Wanli Reign, Ming Dynasty (1573—1620), Shanghai Museum
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