The historic span of Chinese ceramic production, from the Palaeolithic period up until the present day, has unsurprisingly allowed for a great deal of innovation and variation of style. From amongst the considerable regional and chronological diversity in Chinese ceramics, a few styles stand out as particularly memorable or enduring in their popularity – both within China and internationally.
Blue and White Porcelain
As implied by its name, Chinese blue and white porcelain is easily recognisable by its striking contrast of bright blue hues against a white background. Believed to have originated in the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD), versions of the style have been successful in maintaining popularity up until the modern day. The technique known as ‘underglaze blue’ involved the application of a pigment made with cobalt onto white porcelain which, when fired, was transformed into the vibrant blue for which they are best known. Proof of its popularity can also be seen in its influence on European ceramic designs, especially visible in Dutch Delftware. Though Chinese blue and white ceramics have a substantial history, those produced at Jingdezhen during the Kangxi period are usually considered to be the most impressive and thus, most sought after.
Sancai Ware (Three-Colour Glaze)
Sancai ware – literally translated as ‘three-colour’ – usually involved designs combining warm green and amber tones against cream. On figures, large areas were often left unglazed, as the consistency of the glaze itself made small details difficult to render. First made popular in the Tang dynasty, sancai ware declined in prominence in subsequent periods, until being revived under the Ming and into the Qing dynasty, with human and animal figures appearing as the most popular subjects for the style.
Coated in a soft green-grey glaze Chinese celadon ware is as distinctive as it is beautiful. This signature colour was created by the application of an iron-rich slip which, when fired, resulted in a soft green colour, no doubt popular within China for its jade-like hues. Amongst Chinese celadon wares, the exact shade of green varied. The earliest known production of celadon-glazed wares in China were the famous Yue wares, dating to as early as the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD), made at the Yue kilns of Zhejiang, East China.
Famille Rose (Yangcai)
Rising to popularity during the Qing dynasty, famille rose style porcelain, known in Chinese as yangcai or fencai, meaning ‘foreign colours’, was characterised by the use of pink-coloured enamels. Much as its name implies, famille rose porcelain incorporated European enamelling techniques and colours, thought to have been introduced by Jesuit missionaries of the period. Another product of the artistic frisson of the Kangxi period, famille rose porcelains are amongst the most memorable and exciting styles in Chinese ceramics due to their bright pastel hues and detailed designs, often featuring flowers, birds and figures.