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1 / Converging Cultures

Porcelain Plate
Porcelain Plate
Artist / Origin Unknown artist, Jingdezhen, Jiangxi Province, China
Region: East Asia
Date Yuan Dynasty, mid-14th century
Material Porcelain with underglaze blue
Medium: Ceramics
Dimensions Diam.: 18 in. (45.7 cm.)
Location The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York
Credit Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art/Photo by Max Yawney

expert perspective

Alan ChongCurator of the Collection, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Ladan AkbarniaAssociate Curator of Islamic Art, Brooklyn Museum
Ladan AkbarniaAssociate Curator of Islamic Art, Brooklyn Museum

Additional Resources

Carswell, John. Blue and White: Chinese Porcelain around the World. London: British Museum, 2007.

Clunas, Craig. Art in China (Oxford History of Art). Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1997 and 2009.

Kelun, Chen. Chinese Porcelain: Art, Elegance and Appreciation. San Francisco: Long River Press, 2000.

Sullivan, Michael. The Arts of China, 5th ed. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2000.

Watson, William. The Arts of China, 900–1620. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.

Wood, Nigel. Chinese Glazes: Their Origins, Chemistry, and Recreation. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999.

Porcelain Plate

» Unknown artist, Jingdezhen, Jiangxi Province, China

The first porcelain was produced in China during the Tang dynasty (608–906).

During the succeeding Song dynasty (960–1279), Chinese porcelain wares were in demand throughout eastern and western Asia. Over the next several centuries, the obsession with porcelain grew, stimulating not only mass exportation, but also experimentation both within and outside China. By the fourteenth century, when this plate was produced, Chinese artisans at the Jingdezhen kilns in Jiangxi Province had refined the formula for their famed white ceramics and started adding the blue decorations most frequently associated with “china” today.

The key ingredient in Chinese white porcelain from Jingdezhen was kaolin, a soft clay, which—when mixed with porcelain stone and fired at extremely high temperatures (over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit)—resulted in a hard, shiny, translucent material. Decoration of this porcelain was often achieved by painting mineral-based pigments directly onto the unfired body and applying a clear glaze on top; hence the term “underglaze.” In the kiln, the pigments bonded to the clay and yielded rich colors. Cobalt, which fires as a deep blue, was one of the few raw materials that could withstand the heat required for porcelain production.

Although blue and white ware was consumed by the imperial court and the elite in fourteenth-century China, it found its biggest market in the Near and Middle East. Contact between China and western Asia had expanded dramatically after the Mongol conquest of both territories in the preceding century. This interaction resulted in the production of countless “hybrid” objects, particularly in the realm of ceramics. Shapes, styles, iconography, techniques, and materials were exchanged, copied, and adapted as artists and artisans in each region attempted to meet the diverse demands of local and foreign buyers. This plate is decorated with traditional Chinese designs, such as fish, foliage, and flowers, but its form is essentially Middle Eastern. It is widely believed that the cobalt used to paint this and other Chinese blue and white ware was itself an import from the Islamic world.

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