How To Identify Antique Chinese Porcelain Through Symbolism

Unless you have been around Chinese antique porcelain for a number of years then simply identifying a piece as Chinese & not Japanese can be confusing.

I can not tell you how to identify Chinese porcelain pieces with a 100% accuracy via this article but I can show you certain traits & symbolism commonly used on Chinese porcelain that will hopefully help you identify or understand the meaning of symbols used in Chinese porcelain production.

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How To Tell If A Chinese Vase Is Valuable

So how do you tell if a Chinese vase is valuable?

You cant really! Unless you have years of experience buying, selling, studying & collecting. There are just way too many factors to be taken into consideration such as:

  • Age
  • Decoration
  • Period
  • Artist
  • Palette
  • Shape
  • What Kiln

The list goes on.

Another factor to take into consideration is the fact that there is no price discovery mechanism when it comes to Chinese antique porcelain, meaning a vase may sell today for $1000 but a month later that same or similar vase could sell for $5000 or even $10,000 so its virtually impossible to put an accurate price on a piece in a market so erratic.

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Cizhou Ware

cizhou-meipingThis bottle is an example of Cizhou ware, a type of ceramic made in the northern part of China during the Song dynasty (960-1279). The term Cizhou encapsulates a range of wares made in several regions of northern China, often consisting of a course stoneware body covered with a white slip (a thin layer of diluted firing clay), and then decorated with a contrasting colour.

Vessels of this shape have traditionally been referred to as meiping, literally ‘prunus vases’. However, some of these ‘prunus vases’ are inscribed with the Chinese words ‘fine wine’.

Cizhou wares were utilitarian at their time of production and were made in relatively large numbers.

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Ge ware – one of the great 5

ge-type-arrow-vaseGe ware, along with Guan, Ru, Ding and Jun, comprise the ‘ Five Great Wares of the Song Dynasty’. The problems of distinguishing the two crackled wares, Guan, and Ge, were discussed at length during a three-day conference held at the Shanghai Museum in 1992, and while no unanimity of opinion was reached, it was generally thought that those wares with a jinsi tiexian (‘gold thread and iron wire’) crackle should be designated Ge.

Recent archaeological researches suggest that Ge wares may have been made at kilns just outside the walls of the Southern Song palace at Hangzhou, while other suggest that they may have been made at kilns nearer to the centre of Longquan production. What all agree, is that Ge wares display the qualities that might be expected of vessels intended for imperial appreciation.

The name has been used for centuries, and the ceramic ware associated with it has traditionally been greatly admired by connoisseurs. Literature relates Ge ware to Guan, or official, ware but the place of its manufacture remains as much a subject of debate as its precise dating.

Ge ware is first mentioned in the Zhizheng zhiji by Kong Qi in 1363, where it is referred to as gegedong and gege ware. The author records the purchase of a ding-form tripod incense burner “refined, and though new, its appearance is rich and lustrous as though made in the past”. The name Ge first appears in the Ming Dynasty in the Xuande dingyipu.

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A Few Q & A On Imperial China

forbidden-cityDid the Chinese really invent gunpowder?

Yes, although the exact date is uncertain. Most scholars place this event in the ninth century A.D. Originally, gunpowder was used for launching rockets and fireworks. By the twelfth century, it was being used for cannons. Gunpowder was only one of a great many technological innovations that came from China, along with paper, the compass, and movable-type printing.

When was the Great Wall built?

Although sections of defensive walls had been built in the seventh century B.C., it was in 214 B.C. that the first Chinese Emperor commanded that these sections be unified into what would become the Great Wall of China. After the Qing dynasty came to power in the eighteenth century expansion of the wall was discontinued. Today, several sections have been renovated and are a world heritage site.

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The Sir William Burrell Collection Of Chinese Art

Sir-william-BurrellThe Burrell Collection was given to the City of Glasgow in 1944 by Sir William and Lady Constance Burrell. Sir William Burrell (1861-1958) was a wealthy Glasgow shipowner with a lifelong passion for art collecting. The family was of Northumbrian origin, and his grandfather George moved to Glasgow in the early 1830s. By 1856/7 George was established as a shipping and forwarding agent at Port Dundas, the Glasgow terminus of the Forth and Clyde Canal. In the following year he was joined by his son, Sir William’s father, and henceforward the firm traded

under the name of Burrell and Son. Initially its shipowning was confined to vessels small enough to transit the Canal, but in 1866 it took a half-share in an ocean-going steamer and by 1875 a further six steamers had been built for them. Two bore the prefix “Strath”, which continued to be used by Burrell and Son throughout the firm’s existence.

In 1876, the future Sir William entered the firm at the age of 15, and on his father’s death in 1885 he and his eldest brother George took over the management. Burrell and Son was already prospering, but under their shrewd direction it reached a position of international standing in worldwide tramping and in ship management.

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A Brief History Of Chinese Ceramics

chinese-ceramicsA Brief History Of Chinese Ceramics

The Neolithic Age

In China, earthenware 7000-10000 years old from the Neolithic age has been discovered in Henan, Hebei, Jiangxi, Zhejiang and Guangdong Provinces as well as in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region. For example, earthenware shards estimated to be 9700-10500 years old have been excavated at Nanzhuangtou, Xushui, Hebei Province. Shards estimated to be 7600-10000 years old have been found at Xianrendong. Wannian, Jiangxi Province, and shards of approximately 7600-9000 years old have been discovered at Guilin in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region. Restorable pieces from 6000 B.C.-5200 B.C. have been unearthed from sites in Cishan, Wuan, Hebei Province and Peiligang, Xilizheng, Henan Province.

After this, individual styles of earthenware developed in roughly three areas: the region along the middle and upper Yellow River, the region along the lower part of the Yellow River, and the region in Jiannan, which lies in the south of Changjiang. Remains of kilns used for firing pottery have been discovered in these regions.

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Doucai Palatte First Used In The Xuande Reign!

Many books on Chinese porcelain state that the Doucai palatte was first introduced in the reign of the emperor Chenghua. I myself understood this to be correct until I spoke with Mike Vermeer who informed me the Doucai palette was actually used in the earlier regin of the emperor Xuande. Michael Vermeer is a highly respected authority in the field of Chinese imperial porcelains especially monochrome porcelains and a consultant to three major U.S. museums. Visit Mike Vermeers Website

An Rare Doucai Stem Cup Mark and period of Chenghua
An Rare Doucai Stem Cup Mark and period of Chenghua

The definition of the early Ming enamel colours was further improved in the Xuande and Chenghua periods by  an entirely novel approach – the use of coloured enamels   to fill in high-fired, underglaze-blue designs. In this technique fully glazed and fired underglaze blue-and-white wares had the outlines of their blue drawing carefully filled: in with coloured enamels, with occasional touches of solid blue being left to give an extra colour in the finished decoration. The wares were then retired to enamel temperatures. This style is known as the doucai technique –doucai being variously (and rather confusingly) translated as ‘clashing’ or ‘dovetailing’ colours. It is a true polychromc effect, combining red, yellow, green, brown and aubergine overglaze enamels with underglaze blue. Some secondary colours are also seen in doucai wares, such a sage-green, achieved by painting the transparent yellow enamel over the underglaze-blue.

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The Ge Kilns – Chinese Antique Porcelain

ge-wareThe Ge kilns had always been a mystery in the history of ceramics. Although authentic Ge porcelain wares are on display in the Beijing Palace Museum, Shanghai Museum and the Palace Museum of Taipei and so on, there is no surviving documentation from the Song dynasty, nor had any kiln sites ever been identified.

From existing Ge ware, we see all kinds of stoves, vases and dishes, including tripod cauldrons, cauldrons with fish-shaped handles, cauldron with glazed feet and double handles, cylindrical vases, thin-necked urns, bet bodied plates and so on, mostly imitating the design of ritualistic bronze ware and were intended from court use. Thus it had common elements with Ru and Imperial kilns but was very different from porcelain for the common people.

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