SHAPES, STYLES AND PROPORTIONS
It’s hard to explain what attracts the human eye to one shape or form over another. It’s a matter of scale, proportions, symmetry and of course color. Chinese potters throughout history have been more influential than any other culture in setting the standards by which nearly all vases are viewed. Today, it’s nearly impossible to buy a table vase that doesn’t owe it’s shape in some degree to an original Chinese form.
Antique Chinese vases have over the centuries been produced in a wide variety of shapes and styles. Some forms were based on prototypes originally carved in jade or cast in bronze. Their constant evolution throughout history, always adapting but never losing their stylistic roots from their earliest days is a testimony to their timeless designs.
Jade Congs came originally in a great variety of sizes and are frequently found in Liangzhu tombs, sometimes arranged in a circle around the body. Their original meaning and function remain unknown.
The form came back into fashion in ceramics during the Song (960–1279) to Yuan dynasty (1271–1368) and then again during the Qianlong Period (1736-1795) and became particularly popular during the 19th C. as a porcelain form
The earliest examples were produced during the Tang dynasty (618-907) were used as wine vessels. By the Song dynasty (960-1279) their use had evolved into being used to display plum blossoms, hence the name they are known by today “Meiping”. The word literally translates into “plum vase”. The Song to Yuan examples were done in Cizhou, Yaozhou, celadons and Qingbai wares. During the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) they were produced primarily in blue and white and on rare occasions in underglaze red. During the Qing dynasty (1644–1912) the ranges produced expanded immensely, including blue and white, langyao, flambe glazes, sancai, famille verte and famille rose decorations. Among the millions of porcelains produced over the centuries antique Chinese vases in the Meiping shape remains one of the most popular forms.
Yuhuchunping vases were first produced during the Tang dynasty (618-907) and were made to hold holy water. By the Song dynasty (960-1279) the form had become a popular type of wine vessel. During the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368) the shape became more refined as well as being decorated with both underglaze blue and red. This tradition continued into the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) and into the Qing dynasty (1644-1912). Today they are often referred to as “Pear Shaped vases”. During the Yuan and Ming dynasties the form was further adapted by the addition of handles and spouts for wine.
HULUPING, DOUBLE GOURD VASES
The Huluping derived its shape originally from the actual double gourd plant during the Song dynasty at the Longquan kilns. Double gourds are thought to have magical medicinal healing properties and were believed to absorb “negative energy” known as KI. They are also symbols of fertility. The first dated examples were produced at the Souther Song Longquan kilns. They can be found in every palette of colors imaginable. Including Tea Dust, black, Famille Verte, Wucai, Sancai, Flambe etc. During the Kangx period in particular, numerous triple gourd examples were made as well.
“GU”, BEAKER VASES
GU vases also known as “Beaker” or “Flaring” vases have their roots in the early bronze age during the Shang and Zhou dynasties (1600-256 BC). It’s original purpose was as a wine drinking vessel. The first porcelain examples are thought to have been during the Yuan dynasty. The form became particularly popular during the middle of the 17th C. right through the Qianlong period. Most often decorated with celadon glazes, underglaze blue and with overglaze enamels in Wucai, Famille Verte and Famille Rose. Flambe examples also come onto the market once in a while. This particular shape can be found in a variety of other antique Chinese vases with slight variations in style.
SUANTOUPING, GARLIC HEAD VASE
The Garlic mouth or garlic head vases were first produced in bronze during the Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD). The form is that of a pear shaped vase with a garlic head shaped into the top at the mouth.
BAOYUEPING; BIANHU; MOON FLASK OR PILGRIM FLASK
Moon Flask or Pilgrim Flasks were first produced during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) based on Middle-Easter vessels produced in silver and gold brought to China by traders. The bodies are of circular flattened form is fitted with a narrow cylindrical neck with flanking applied handles linking the neck and body. Typically the early Ming examples are decorated in underglaze blue and later periods enamels were also used. On very rare occasions they were also produced in underglaze red. The earliest examples made during the Ming dynasty had a swollen area on the neck and are generally referred to a “Pilgrim Flasks”. Today “moon flasks” are still extremely popular among collectors of antique Chinese vases.
TIANQIUPING; GLOBULAR VASES
First developed during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), these are notable for their heavily rounded bulbous bodies and long straight necks. During the Qing dynasty particularly in through the Qianlong period these became court favorites and were made using a wide variety of decorations. Among the wide range of antique Chinese vases this particular form is among the most enduring.
XIANGTUIPING; TONGPING; SLEEVE VASE, ROLWAGEN VASE
A shape developed during the very end of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) and into the earliest days of the Qing dynasty (1644–1912). Most recognized as a development of the “Transitional Period” . The literal translation for Xiangtuiping is “Elephant foot” vase. The term Tongping refers to “sleeve vase” or are referred to using the Dutch word “Rolwagen”, a term that evolved when they were first brought to Holland in the 17th C. The form noted for its brief waisted neck and relatively straight vertical sides.
LIUYEPING; ‘WILLOW LEAF’ VASE “AMPHORA”
The name, Liuyeping, is derived from the vase’s slender profile, which resembles a willow leaf. The shape originated in the Kangxi Reign (1662–1722 AD) during the Qing dynasty, and is often found in a peach-bloom glaze.
BANGCHUIPING; ‘ROULEAU’ VASE
The term Bangchuiping translates literally from Chinese to “Wooden Club”. A name derived from this vases form of a cylindrical body with flat shoulders with a cylindrical flanged neck. French Asian art historians coined the term Rouleau due to it’s roll-form body. The shape was developed during the Kangxi period (1661 – 1722.). Most often this form is decorated with underglaze blue, Famille verte and with the two combined. Minochromes in cobalt blue and Famille Noire examples also exist. Among antique Chinese vases of the Kangxi period, Rouleau examples are among the most sought from the Kangxi period. Numerous convincing later copies can be found on the market as well.
FENGWEIZUN; PHOENIX-TAIL, VASE; YEN-YEN VASE
The form, most commonly known as Yen-Yen vases is derived from the earlier GU shape originating as a bronze form during the Shang dynasty. The began being made during the Kangxi (1662-1722) and are often used in garniture sets coupled with tall covered jars. They were produced in Famille Verte, Famille Noire, cobalt blue and mirror black. During the Yongzheng and Qianlong period few in this form seem to have been made but came back into fashion during the 19th C. Yen-Yen’s are among the most recognizable of all antique Chinese vases associated with the Kangxi period, be careful when buying some very good copies are now on the market.
YAOLINGZUN; ‘MALLET-SHAPED’ VASE
The form, most commonly known as “Mallet vases” is characterized by the bell form and long narrow circular neck. The most well know examples were made during the Kangxi period (1662-1721) During the Yongzheng and Qianlong periods very few in this form seem to have been made and fewer were made during the 19th C. The majority of these fine and rare antique Chinese vases were done with underglaze red decorations.
HAITANGZUN; LOBED VASE, BEGONIA-SHAPED VASE
The vase’s recognizable characteristic is that it is a lobed vase – in other words it has a lobed/sectioned mouth and most often has lines running down the vase, splitting it into panels or sections.
Many thanks to Peter Combs to whom I refer constantly.