ENQUIRIES: +(65) 6291 7788



Blue and white porcelain during the Ming Dynasty

Blue and white porcelain was first developed from qingbai porcelain during the Yuan period. This period was a time of experimentation as potters tried to develop a transparent glaze that would not obscure the blue motifs on the white porcelain body. During this period, they also experimented with multiple shapes and motifs, ranging from sturdy and severe to graceful and refined. These pieces reflected the dynamic, high spirited age in which they were made and classified under the Zhizheng style. The success of this style resulted in the mid fourteenth century being named as the ‘golden age’ of blue and white ware.


Majority of blue and white porcelain during this period is densely painted with multiple motifs, with few exceptions of an underglaze light cobalt and a scattering of motifs. Few of the more densely ones have slightly raised white motifs of flowers and dragons carved on a blue and white painted background, therey creating a strong vivid impression. The Zhizheng style was created to meet the growing demands of West Asia and near the East.


This style included larger wares and a West Asia style arabesque design, a pattern of flowers and foliage intricately and repeatedly drawn to cover the majority of the surface of the vessel. This avoided the use of white space, characteristic West Asian style. The Chinese potters managed to transform these designs to create a flexible composition that did not seem frivolous or crowded as seem in the pictures below.


The quality and look of the blue and white porcelain continued to transform during the Ming dynaty. The early years of the Ming dynasty, Yongzhe era, resulted in a low quality of blue and white porcelain. The style, known as the Hongwu style, did not stand out and is commonly known as the traditional style.
The Hongwu style is also decorated rather crudely, without a strength of character of older wares. The lack of compactness in design also resulted in a rather lifeless style. The weakness of the style may be attributed to the lack of smalt, a specific kind of cobalt mixture, from West Asia. To overcome this, they had to substitute smalt for a faintish black blue which is incomparable to the Zhizheng blue, even when painted with the same expertise.

Blue and white ware during Yongle and Xuande era

The blue and white porcelain began to reach its former glory during the Yongle reign, when smalt was readily available again. The blue and white porcelain also began to transform to meet the taste of the Chinese emperor and people, who preferred the more traditional Chinese style. Thus the design of porcelain shifted from the West Asian style to a more distinct Chinese style. Though the larger vessels of the West Asian style remained, the more complicated shapes were gradually replaced by simpler ones. These simpler shapes included both small and medium sized ones that could be used by the people in their everyday lives.
The smalt was further refined to produce brighter underglaze blue motifs. The clay and the overglaze received an upgrade resulting in the final product being considerable different from the darker blue and white ware of the Zhizheng era. To match the higher quality materials used, motifs became more sophisticated, often having a musical tempo: water plants quiver in a running stream, and vines and floral scrolls undulate in a rhythmic pattern across the surface of the vessel. A vase from the Yongle reign with intricately drawn floral scrolls and an abundance white space can be seen below. Unlike previously, large areas of blank white ground were reserved to better set off the motifs. This new style marked the end of the West Asian style of the Zhizheng era.
The Xuande era followed the Yongle era.

Though the era only lasted ten years, the official kilns had never been more active, reflecting the stability of the country during this period. This period marked the beginning of the inscription of the reign name on the pieces, allowing them to be easily dated. However, the main distinguishing factor between the two eras, is that Xuande ware has a certain grandeur. Despite the transition to a more sophisticated design, the blue and white ware from these two eras are still of the same quality and both represent the move towards a distinctive Chinese style.
Instead of reserving white space to create an airiness in design as done in the Yongle style, the Xuande potters confined their motifs to carefully outlined areas in several bands, leaving the intermediary space white. They painted their motifs with blue smalt, to which a small amount of domestic cobalt had been added, creating a blackish tint that seemed to enhance the refined quality of the porcelain. The white background both showed off the white clay and the blue motifs. The clay was unique due to the presence of extremely fine bubbles in the overglaze, creating a finely pitted, creamy white surface. The potters left large areas white to emphasize the matte-like delicate finish of the white clay. The inscriptions were also carried out with an underglaze cobalt, in the centre of the foot or the inside of the vessel.

Screen Shot 2014-06-27 at 10.36.46 AM