Ming Dynasty, China
Materials: clay, glaze
This vase is an example of the famous blue on white porcelain that was popular during the Ming dynasty of China (1368-1644). It is a pear shaped vase with blue floral designs on a white background of the body and upper rim. The mouth is small compared to the body and the lip is glazed brown for protection. A crack runs along one side but does not reach the top and there is an unidentified maker’s mark on the bottom.
Porcelain is made from a special type of clay called kaolin or china clay since that is where it was first discovered. The same techniques are used to shape the clay as with other pottery but it is fired (the process of applying heat to pottery to make it hard) at much higher temperatures, up to 1200°C.
Porcelain was a long guarded secret in China for many centuries making it a very valuable trade item. What distinguishes porcelain from other pottery is its translucent glass-like quality. There is no need for glaze as it is already water tight though it can be glazed for decorative purposes as is seen here. Early types included the green colored porcelain known as celadon. Later, it was found that the mineral cobalt, when applied and fired, would produce a brilliant blue color. This technique was perfected and produced in large numbers during the Ming dynasty. For more information, read Li He’s Chinese Ceramics: the New Standard Guide or Prudence M. Rice’s Pottery Analysis: a sourcebook, or visit the Guest and Gray website. [Victoria Counts]