Wucai Chinese antique porcelain has its origins from the earlier Doucai ceramics. Wucai first appeared during the reign of the Ming dynasty Emperor Jiajing, who ruled the Chinese empire between 1521 and 1567. Its manufacture continued throughout the Ming dynasty until its demise in 1644, but underwent a renaissance during the Qing dynasty.
Jingderjen often called the Porcelain City of the world and is still producing fine ceramics today, was the main site of production throughout China for Wucai ceramics. Although Wucai can be translated as ‘five-colour’ the colours were not strictly limited to that number and the term is best understood as simply multicoloured.
Wucai porcelain was characterised by the over glaze decoration of coloured enamels after the porcelain had been fired once with a blue under glaze design. The over glaze enamels included a variety of colours such as red, green, blue, yellow and purple. Once the coloured over glaze enamels had been applied, the porcelain was then fired a second time, but at a lower temperature.
Wucai objects can vary widely in their decoration, ranging from the relatively simple to the positively ornate. Motifs and symbols were often very finely painted and included depictions of dragons, phoenixes, flowers, plants and fish. Later examples of Wucai porcelain from the Qing Dynasty era utilised black and gold to outline the design, thus giving the porcelain a vivid and life like quality.
The finest production period for Wucai came in the Qing Dynasty period during the reign of the Emperor Kangxi, which lasted from 1661 until 1722, and is commonly known as Kangxi Wucai.
Kangxi Wucai porcelain is characterised by fine craftsmanship and intricate decoration, which were made possible by the technological innovations of that era. These innovations included improved firing techniques and new pigments such as blues and black. New painting mediums, such as oil rather than water based, allowed artists to utilise a wider range of styles and designs.