Oriental ceramics include pottery from both China and Japan, though they have followed very different histories. China has a rich selection of the raw materials needed to make fine ceramic ware, and this is probably the main reason the area has such a long and rich history of making an art form of porcelain and earthenware vessels. The fine wares from China influenced the whole Asian industry, but the Japanese industry went on to develop its own unique and individual styles, making an important contribution to oriental ceramics in general.
What makes oriental ceramics so collectable?
Oriental ceramics have long been a sought after item, and not just for collectors and museums. There are several reasons for this:
- The very fine quality and unique artistic styles, often depicting scenes from the period when they were created, has led to them being prized items in museums throughout the world.
- The aesthetic beauty and distinctly different families, coupled with their value as an investment, has made them a common collectors item.
- But oriental ceramics are also used purely as an ornamental decoration, their instantly recognisable style is iconic, and they are frequently associated with simplistic and minimalistic themes as well as purely oriental ones.
Chinese history of oriental ceramics
Most people have heard of Ming Vases, but it's a phrase that does not mean that much, just that the vase was made during the Ming Dynasty, from 1368 to 1644. This was the period when regular sea trade between Europe and Asia started; an earlier vase would be even more valuable, but extremely rare. As soon as regular trade was established, China started producing their oriental ceramics specifically for the export market, and throughout the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), different styles were added to cater for European, and successively, North American markets.
Chinese styles and colours in oriental ceramics
A more useful classification uses the colour palette to separate different Chinese styles.
Ming vases are noted for designs in blue on a white glaze. To the end of the period, and throughout the Qing dynasty, other styles became more common.
The Famille Vert style added copper green and iron red glazes, together with blue, in a style derived from Wucai. Famille Jaune is distinctive for its yellow background, with the designs being predominately green.
Famille noir is a well know style were enamels are applied to a black base. White, blue, and violet glazes are commonly used for the designs, gold appears on some of the finer examples.
The Famille Rose style is made using a technique that allows detailed designs, and is associated with the use of a fuller colour palette. This style often depicts far more lifelike scenes, rather than abstractions or simplified subjects.
Japanese pottery in oriental ceramics
The Japanese contribution to oriental ceramics is very different. Japan learnt its techniques from China, but the rigid Japanese economy meant that more elaborate and decorative wares took second place to simple functional styles, very often simple glazes on earthenware. However individual Japanese potters proved to to be adept at establishing their own unique styles, often handing them down through families, or passing them on to entire villages. Japanese ceramic styles tend to be associated with a family or a place, rather than a period. In many cases, modern Japanese pottery is still produced using exactly the same styles and techniques that have been handed down for generations, or even centuries.
The very different histories of Japanese and Chinese ceramics have meant that each has given its own unique contribution to oriental ceramics, and to their long standing popularity with collectors.
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