Memories from the Metropolitan Museum: Blue and White Porcelain

On exiting the Edo gallery, I wandered to Great Hall balcony on the second floor. The Met’s impressive and extensive Chinese ceramics collection is on display here!

The ceramics industry in China can be traced back to as early as the 6th century but by the 14th century, production concentrated around a single center called Jingdezhen. A totally new product called porcelain – painted with cobalt blue under a transparent glaze—began to dominate the Chinese ceramic industry. This development of “blue-and-white” is still considered the most important and influential event in world ceramic history. By the 15th century, Jingdezhen was making millions of pieces for the Chinese court, for domestic consumption and for mass export.

Dish with Buddhist Monk-Poet Hanshan,mid-17th century, Jingdezhen ware made for Japan market

Eccentric Buddhist  monk-poet Hanshan, mid-17th century, Jingdezhen made for Japan

The above is a classic example of kosometsuke (old-blue decorated ware), made in China especially for Japanese tea enthusiasts. However, by the 17th century, Japan, Korea and Mexico jumped into the race, in response to the Chinese blue-and-white porcelains (clearly the the most desired and technically advanced ceramics at the time).

Artist Cornelis Pronk was commissioned by The Dutch East India Company (this company dominated the export of Chinese porcelain to Europe) to supply designs that could be copied on porcelain intended for export. The design of a lady with a parasol was one of Pronk’s most popular compositions.

Cornelis Pronk Plate depicting a lady with parasol, ca. 1734–37 Chinese for Dutch market

Cornelis Pronk, plate depicting a lady with parasol, ca. 1734–37, Chinese for Dutch market

It was interesting to see that the above design found it’s way to Japan and was adapted to reflect the Japanese aesthetic.


Ladies with parasol, Edo period – ca. 1736, Japan, photo: The Met

The pieces that I really liked were in fact, from Japan. I later found out that these belonged to the most refined and elegant variety of Japanese porcelain, known as Nabeshima ware.


Design of Three Jars, Edo period: 1680–90s, Nabeshima ware

Nabeshima ware, was created exclusively for the nobility and it’s techniques kept a secret. This type of porcelain is characterized by smooth, uniform surfaces, soft colors and Japanese motifs.


Design of Cranes, Edo period: 1615–1868, Nabeshima ware

I found these notes handy while trying to understand the context of ceramics in the 18th century – Edo–Period Japanese Porcelain and East and West: Chinese Export Porcelain.

PS: I love the fact that the Met has digitised so many of their collections, notes and content. Way to go Met!!


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