Chinese Lamp

By the mid 14th century, during the Ming dynasty, Jingdezhen had Imperial patronage and was the most important centre in China for the production of porcelain. In fact, the only place in the world that could produce porcelain! The “secret” of blue and white is cobalt, a natural mineral ore, which was then confined to Persia, today’s modern Iran. Persia, or rather, Kashan, located near Tehran, held a monopoly on the valuable cobalt which was mined in the low hills surrounding Kashan.

The Persians used cobalt for the decoration of white, tin glazed earthenware and, in fact, Kashan was an important centre for the manufacture and distribution of ceramics throughout the Middle East. Here, we are speaking of a 9th and 10th century world, totally unrecognizable to us today with our instant everything and with every part of the world, just hours away! At this time trade between countries was slow, dangerous and arduous, a trading caravan, typically taking a year for the round trip.

Trading caravans from Persia first introduced the Chinese to Persian cobalt; soon to be know in China as “Persian Blue”, the cobalt ore ground to a fine dark blue to black powder. Chinese potters were excited and thrilled with this new product and trading began in earnest with bolts of pure silk exchanged for small packets of Persian Blue.

It was at this period that ceramic decorators were experimenting, especially with the firing techniques, as the cobalt could be unstable with the effect of over or under firing which is one of the reasons that this very early class of Chinese blue and white painting is sketchy with the blue being washy and rather pale.

Chinese porcelain is “hard paste” porcelain, the term really refers to the “hard fire” or, high temperature, requiring kilns capable of raising temperatures up to 1250° C / 2300° F in order for the porcelain to vitrify with the hard, white, translucent result we call porcelain. Because of the high level kiln failure, expense and labour required, porcelain at this time was so rare that it was only produced for important commissions from the Imperial court or high ranking members of the aristocracy.

Amazing Chinese antiques

The  Chinese new year has passed and the weather is warming! The peasants sellers from the countryside are gradually returning and bringing with them, the years new shipments of Chinese classical and provincial antiques collected from their home towns and villages.  Some interesting things!

As always though, the field narrows and there are general trends to be aware of this year:
  • Each year it gets harder and harder to find good pieces. If you didn’t buy what you wanted last year, its probably gone this year.
  • Prices are rising as supply diminishes and mainland Chinese begin to purchase and appreciate their own culture as well.
  • Its difficult to find original paintings anymore. Most have been repainted or retouched.
  • As always, the older, more original, rarer or better quality wood, the more expensive it is!
Here are some of the items for sale which catch my eye in the antique markets at the particular moment. 

A chinese Antique Painting

After last weeks visit to the Beijing un-restored  antiques market, several people had asked me for specific recommendations on “which pieces I would buy and why would I buy them.”
I will break this list down into three categories and discuss each in a three part post.
  1. Collectors level: These are often investment worthy classical style pieces which are good materials (such as rosewood), valued in collectors  terms and will appreciate in value. Collectors and those with taste for quality should put their money here. This is a tricky category as Westerners and Chinese value things in different terms (see note below).
  2. Quality antiques: In general these are pieces that may be provincial but good value for the money.  Either the condition is quite good (such as original paintings), it has a fair amount of age to it or its difficult to now find a similar piece at a reasonable price.  Note that these pieces are getting harder and harder to find and will increase in value as well. And this is a difficult category as some pieces here may be a worthwhile investment, even if they don’t fit the strict definition for investment level.
  3. Decorative items: Pieces which may not be significantly worth money but nevertheless charming and have good aesthetic or design value.
Of course its impossible to discuss each piece in detail here and these are just a few of the  items which stand out. Nor will you will not find any Huang hua li or Zitan here – those sort of items will never reach these markets and are rare enough inside China as it is.  However for those with the means and those who appreciate these are items I would put my money into.

Chinese Shovel

I recently stumbled across a Chinese antiques themed scraper site, aggregating headlines related obviously to Chinese art and antiques. For those of you who are not savvy in the lingo of the web, “scraper sites” are basically spam sites which glean all of their content off of the web and repost it in its entirety (as their own content). Usually sites like that are put up for the purpose of selling ads on the site – in many ways they ruin the web when it comes to search engine by polluting results with content that doesn’t even belong on their site . I won’t post the link here as I frown on the practice, having found my own content scraped a few times already. But I must admit, in this case it did lead me to so interesting recent articles which are worth sharing. Unlike them, I had to spend some time finding the original source of the article in order to provide credit where it is due.

Antique Dish

Burma (Myanmar), Southeast Asia
Dish, 14th-15th century
Decorative object; Ceramic, Stoneware with celadon glaze, 3 x 13 3/8 in. (7.62 x 33.97 cm)
Mr. Robert P. Griffing, Jr. Bequest (M.80.32.3)
South and Southeast Asian Art Department.
Note: not currently on public view.