Category Archive 'Canton Ware'

09 Apr 2018

Shades of Blue

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Christie’s ceramic expert Joan Ho offers a brief guide to the history of Blue-and-White porcelain in China.

Imported blue-and-white china called “Canton” was popular in the upper circles of American society during the colonial and Federal periods. Possession of a set of inherited Canton used to be an important caste marker in upper-crust American society.

In Virginia Horse Country, where I used to live, people would speak with admiration of certain old families, saying “they are the kind of people who put Canton in the dishwasher.”

The colour blue gained special significance in the history of Chinese ceramics during the Tang dynasty (618-907). The distinctive colour in blue-glazed pottery and porcelain comes from cobalt ores imported from Persia, which were a scarce ingredient at the time and used in only limited quantities.

In the Yuan (1279-1368), Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties in particular, different types of cobalt ore and methods of application determined the distinctive feature of the shades of blue that appeared on blue-and-white porcelain ware. …

The Song dynasty (960-1279) marked a high point in the production of monochrome wares, but artisans of this period regarded the use of cobalt blue as an impossibility. It was not until the Mongol-ruled Yuan dynasty that the manufacture of blue-and-white porcelain came to maturity, which resulted in richer and more complex subject matter. In part, this development had a religious component: the Mongols counted as their mythical ancestors the ‘hazy blue’ wolf and the ‘white’ fallow doe.


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