Blue and white (porcelain)

Blue and white wares: white pottery and porcelain wares decorated under the glaze with a blue pigment, generally cobalt oxide.

The decoration is commonly applied by hand, by stencilling or by transfer-printing, though other methods of application have also been used.

The first blue and white wares were made in China in as early as early 9th century in Henan province, though there were shards found in China, the only 3 pieces of complete Tang Blue and White in the world were recovered from Indonesian Belitung shipwreck in 1999 and later sold to Singapore. In the early fourteenth century mass-production of fine, translucent, blue and white porcelain started at Jingdezhen, sometimes called the porcelain capital of China. Chinese blue and white porcelain was once-fired: after the porcelain body was dried, decorated with refined cobalt-blue pigment mixed with water and applied using a brush, coated with a clear glaze and fired at high temperature. Production of blue and white wares has continued at Jingdezhen to this day. Blue and white porcelain made at Jingdezhen probably reached the height of its technical excellence during the reign of the Kangxi emperor (1662 to 1722).

By the beginning of the 17th century Chinese blue and white porcelain was being exported directly to Europe. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Oriental blue and white porcelain was highly prized in Europe and America and sometimes enhanced by fine silver and gold mounts, it was collected by kings and princes.
The European manufacture of porcelain started at Meissen in Germany, in 1707. The early wares were strongly influenced by Chinese and other Oriental porcelains and an early pattern was blue onion, which is still in production at the Meissen factory today. Early English porcelain wares were also influenced by Chinese wares and when, for example, the production of porcelain started at Worcester, nearly forty years after Meissen, Oriental blue and white wares provided the inspiration for much of the decoration used. Hand-painted and transfer-printed wares were made at Worcester and at other early English factories in a style known as Chinoiserie. Many other European factories followed this trend. At Delft, in The Netherlands, blue and white ceramics taking their designs from Chinese export porcelains made for the Dutch market were made in large numbers throughout the 17th Century. Blue and white Delftware was itself extensively copied by factories in other European countries, including England, where it is known as English Delftware.

The plate shown in the illustration (right) is decorated with the famous willow pattern and was probably made at a factory in the English county of Staffordshire. Such is the persistence of the willow pattern that it is difficult to date the piece shown with any precision; it is possibly quite recent but similar wares have been produced by English factories in huge numbers over long periods and are still being made today. The willow pattern, said to tell the sad story of a pair of star-crossed lovers, was an entirely European design, though one that was strongly influenced in style by design features borrowed from Chinese export porcelains of the 18th Century. The willow pattern was, in turn, copied by Chinese potters, but with the decoration hand painted rather than transfer-printed.

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