Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

Dish with phoenix and flower motifs

Photo: Paul Macapia

Dish with phoenix and flower motifs

early 14th century

Brilliant cobalt pigment and a refined porcelain body are essential to the striking beauty of blue-and-white wares, which rose in Chinese ceramic production in the fourteenth century largely as a result of huge demand in the central and western Asian markets. This large dish manifests the taste for elaborate designs derived from Islamic art, and its massive size was intended to accommodate communal meals customary among Muslims.
Porcelain with underglaze cobalt-blue decoration
Diameter: 18 3/4 in. (47.6cm)
Purchased in memory of Elizabeth M. Fuller with funds from the Elizabeth M. Fuller Memorial Fund and from the Edwin W. and Catherine M. Davis Foundation, St. Paul, Minnesota
Provenance: Purchased for Seattle Art Museum with funds from the Elizabeth M. Fuller Memorial Fund and from the Edwin W. and Catherine M. Davis Foundation, St. Paul, Minnesota, January 6, 1976
Photo: Paul Macapia
Now on view at the Asian Art Museum

Geometric Dynamism

The creator of this plate cunningly manipulated the application of cobalt pigment. Whereas the motifs in the center--with two phoenixes in a garden--are painted in blue on a white background, the peonies and floral scrolls on the well and rim are white against a blue background. The positions of the phoenixes and the capricious detail of a sepal in the well animate what is otherwise a rigid, symmetrical design.
Detail, 76.7
Photo: Paul Macapia

What Impact Did Blue-and-White Wares Have on World History?

Blue-and-white wares had a global appeal from the fourteenth to the nineteenth century. China had an abundant supply of kaolin and china stone, the key materials for producing porcelain, which is a white clay that endures high firing temperature. Having mastered the use of cobalt, the Chinese painted different subjects on porcelains to suit the taste and needs of other peoples. Like silk and tea, porcelains became luxury goods, and they were exported to Europe in bulk by the seventeenth century because Europeans were not able to produce high-fired and translucently white ceramics until the eighteenth century. Chinese blue-and-white porcelains were prominently displayed in the interiors of homes (see left for example), and their possession indicated wealth. Europe once suffered a serious trade deficit because of excessive imports of blue-and-white ceramics. The high demand for these wares stimulated scientific research on the production of porcelains in European countries. Up to this day, blue-and-white porcelains are still widely used.
Banquet Still Life, ca. 1653-55, Abraham van Beyeren, 61.146
Photo: Eduardo Calderón

What is Blue-and-White Ware?

Vase, 11th-13th century, Chinese, north China, 49.58
Jingdezhen ware, ca. 1426-35, Ching Te-chen, 49.154
Vase, mid-15th century, Chinese, Jiangxi province, 69.80
Cider jug, second quarter of 19th century, Chinese, 79.71
Jingdezhen ware, ca. 1736-95, Chinese, 40.96.1
Plate, 17th century, Persian, 48.146

What Did the Chinese Paint on Ceramics?

The Chinese painted a variety of subjects on ceramics. Plants were very common because they conveyed auspicious meanings and alluded to virtues. Floral motifs were also stylized into geometric and decorative patterns. Oftentimes the clay body served as a canvas to illustrate a narrative. In short, the clay body was not confined to any particular subject matter.
Brush rest, ca. 1573-1619, Chinese, Jingdezhen, 51.86

The Legacy of Blue-and-White Wares in Asia

Large dish with dragon, ca. 1610-20, Chinese, Jingdezhen, 91.40
Photo: Susan Cole
VOC plate, ca. 1660-80, Japanese, 75.78
Photo: Paul Macapia
Garniture of five vases displayed on Kast, ca. 1640-50, Dutch, 91.64, 54.81.1-5


Exhibition HistorySeattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, 50 Years: A Legacy of Asian Art, June 30, 1983 - May 30, 1984.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Porcelain Stories: From China to Europe, Feb. 17 - May 7, 2000.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Glaze, Pattern and Image: Decoration in Chinese Ceramics, Sept. 7 - Nov. 19, 2002.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Asian Art Museum, Chinese Art: A Seattle Perspective, Dec. 22, 2007 - July 26, 2009.

Tokyo, Japan, Suntory Museum of Art, Luminous Jewels: Masterpieces of Asian Art From the Seattle Art Museum, July 25 - Sept. 6, 2009 (Kobe, Japan, Kobe City Museum, Sept. 19 - Dec. 6, 2009; Kofu, Japan, Yamanashi Prefectural Museum of Art, Dec. 23, 2009 - Feb. 28, 2010; Atami, Japan, MOA Museum of Art, Mar. 13 - May 9, 2010; Fukuoka, Japan, Fukuoka Art Museum, May 23 - July 19, 2010). Cat. no. 75.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Luminous: The Art of Asia, Oct. 13, 2011 - Jan. 8, 2012.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Asian Art Museum, Boundless: Stories of Asian Art, Feb. 8, 2020 - ongoing.
Published ReferencesTrubner, Henry. Asian Art in the Seattle Art Museum: Fifty Years of Collecting. Seattle, Wash.: Seattle Art Museum, 1983; reproduced p. 9.

Selected Works. Seattle, Wash.: Seattle Art Museum, 1991; p. 164.

Harding, Beverly. The Secret of Porcelain: A Family Guide. Seattle, Wash.: Seattle Art Museum, 2000; pp. 4, 21.

Finlay, Robert. The Pilgrim Art: Cultures of Porcelain in World History. Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 2010; reproduced pl. 16.

Froula, Christina. "Proust's China." Modernism/modernity 19, no. 2 (April 2012): pp. 227-254, reproduced p. 238, fig. 6.

Schroeder, Paul A. and Gary Erickson. "Kaolin: From Ancient Porcelains to Nanocomposites." Elements: An International Magazine of Mineralogy, Geochemistry, and Petrology 10 no. 3 (June 2014): reproduced on cover, fig. 5C, p. 181.

Waugh, Daniel C. "The Arts of China in Seattle." The Silk Road 12 (2014): pp. 137-152, reproduced p.145, fig. 25.

Qian, Zhaoming (ed.). Modernism and the Orient. New Orleans: University of New Orleans Press, 2012; p. 87, reproduced fig. 6.

Foong, Ping, Xiaojin Wu, and Darielle Mason. "An Asian Art Museum Transformed." Orientations vol. 51, no. 3 (May/June 2020): p. 61, reproduced fig. 22 (installation view).

Seattle Art Museum respectfully acknowledges that we are on Indigenous land, the traditional territories of the Coast Salish people. We honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future.

Learn more about Equity at SAM