See-for Kot, Owner of Tianminlou Collection, Chronicles History of Blue & White Porcelain

Blue and white porcelain is praised for its simple yet elegant design. It has profound impact in shaping the asethetic and development of Chinese works of art. To explore the fascinating history of Chinese blue and white porcelain, we have invited See-for Kot (S.F. Kot), who owns the largest repository of Yuan blue and white porcelain in private hands, to share insight on the topic. 

See-for Kot (S.F. Kot), Owner of Tianminlou

Blue & White Porcelain Originated from Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368)

S.F.Kot: Some say blue & white porcelain originated from Tang dynasty (618-907). Strictly speaking, blue & white porcelain started in Yuan dynasty (1271-1368). Chinese people favoured colours like yellow, red, so you see red walls, yellow tiles in China, but not blue. Yet you find blue colour in Islamic churches and buildings. Though we see blue glaze in Tang Sancai pottery, blue was not so common at the time.

Blue and White porcelain from Yuan dynasty (1271-1268)|British Museum

Blue and White porcelain from Yuan dynasty (1271-1268)|British Museum

Palace Museum in Beijing

Islamic buildings in blue colour 

S.F.Kot: Until the Yuan dynasty, people from the Middle East came into China. They belonged to the Semu caste and the Mongols and Semu ranked higher than the Han Chinese. Middle Eastern religion and items were then introduced to China. Yuan blue & white porcelain was more popular in Middle Eastern region than in China because the court used metal ware instead of porcelain. The Mongols had been living without fixed habitation so porcelain is too vulnerable to them. Yuan blue & white porcelain were mainly exported to Islamic region.

Tang Sancai candlestick|Palace Museum in Beijing

Terracotta sculpture of Semu. Shaanxi History Museum

Yuan Blue & White Was Discovered in the 50s

S.F.Kot: Yuan blue & white was not discovered until the 50s. The National Palace Museum didn’t have any until it later received donations from collectors. Even the Palace Museum in Beijing didn’t have any record about blue & white from the Yuan dynasty. The existence of Yuan blue and white was discovered until John Alexander Pope found an inscription dating the 11th Year of the Zhizheng reign in a vase with elephant-head handles. He found similarities in the vase with those made in Turkey and Iran. It was then he discovered that Yuan dynasty produced blue & white porcelain as well.

Blue and White porcelain from Yuan dynasty (1271-1268)|National Palace Museum

Blue and White porcelain from Yuan dynasty (1271-1268)|British Museum

John Alexander Pope

Blue & White from Early Ming is better than those from Late Ming?

S.F.Kot: New shapes, decoration and technology were introduced in the Yongle period (1426-1435). Encounters with new elements in different periods fostered development. Though Xuande period (1426-1435) only lasted about a decade, it was a period of stability and prosperity. But the late Ming dynasty was weak so blue & white in late Ming regressed. Yongle, Xuande and Chenghua periods in early Ming were the peak. Blue & white produced after the Wanli period (1573-1620) were not as good. A large number of porcelains that were supposed to be produced in the official kilns were shifted to the folk kilns with less resources and regulations. The quality went down.

Blue and white from Yongle period (1403-1425), Ming dynasty from the Tianminlou collection

Blue and white from Xuande period (1426-1435), Ming dynasty from the Tianminlou collection

Are Qing blue & white not as good as blue & white from Yuan and Ming dynasties?

S.F.Kot: In the Qing Dynasty, the technology advanced. Other colours could also be applied to porcelain. Compared with blue & white, polychrome porcelain was more well-developed. It doesn’t mean blue & white in Qing is not as good. It just they shifted the focus to polychrome porcelain.

Famille Rose (fencai) ware from Qing dynasty (1644-1911)|National Palace Museum

Falangcai ware from Qing dynasty (1644-1911)|National Palace Museum