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Oriental Porcelain - Nankin Blue

( Originally Published 1911 )

MANY collectors are immensely attracted by what is known as the old blue and white. It is such a widely distributed product, extending over a long series of reigns. We noted before that it reached its highest excellence in the Kang-he period. It was at first reserved for the Court, for Emperors and high dignitaries, but since Kang-he's reign blue and white may be said to belong to all dates, and the blue and white ginger jars of the present time which may be bought for one or two guineas show how the demand has been a constant one throughout the whole of the time. At a very early period after the Dutch had imported this blue and white from China their potters set about imitating it and produced the fine old blue and white delft which is now valuable, but there is no specimen of delft which reaches anything like the price of the old Chinese blue and white from which it was copied. The honorific inscriptions, the sacred emblems, the immortals and their attendants were quite meaningless to the mind of the Dutch potter, just as they were to the Italian, who was also an Oriental copyist. To the Oriental the decoration of each piece meant something, something it may be of their history or of their religion. High thoughts were set out as inscriptions, and inspirations were given by the story on the vase or dish, which when represented on a European copy became only a scheme of decoration, or at its best a germ from which an original scheme of native work might have its birth. So the Dutch, though they at first made delft ware in servile imitation of Chinese patterns, soon saw their way to utilise purely Dutch designs and with these to produce work as fine as that which they had made under the inspiration of the Chinese model.

At King-te-chin, the classical home of porcelain, a city with 3,000 kilns, the best of the blue and white was made ; and although there is a large class called Nankin blue which must not be neglected, the latter, in decoration, is immensely inferior to the products of the Imperial factories. It is quite certain that there were many other factories besides those at King-te-chin which produced porcelain, but history leaves few records of them, so that it would be quite fair to include Nankin blue as a product of King-te-chin perhaps decorated at Nankin. It is quite interesting to note how at first this blue and white, now so valued, was not esteemed by Europeans with the exception of the Dutch. Much of it was redecorated on the glaze and the pattern burnt in so as to hide the decoration.

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