A selection of ceramics through the ages (5 second delay) Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology The Collections:
PotWeb: Ceramics online
@ the Ashmolean Museum
Early Europe & Near East
Classical to Medieval
Europe from 1500
Oriental & Islamic

Japanese Export Porcelain in the Ashmolean Museum

The Background to Japanese Export Porcelain

Types of export porcelain

A high-fired, relatively plastic clay containing kaolin which, at around 1300°C, becomes a hard, vitrified, strong and translucent material.

The term 'porcelain', supposedly coined by Marco Polo in the 13th century, is derived from the Italian word porcellana, which refers to a cowrie shell and presumably its smooth, white, translucent inner surface. Whereas a cowrie's outward appearance may be round and pink and likened to a small sow or porcella in Italian.

Blue And White

This is white porcelain ware decorated with underglaze blue derived from cobalt oxides. The object was then covered with a transparent glaze. Cobalt was used because it is one of the few metal oxides which are stable and do not volatilise at the maturing temperature of porcelain glazes (1280-1300°C). [Right: Bottle; Blue-and-white, Arita; 1660-80; EA1978.734]


The ware is made of porcelain or porcellaneous stoneware, usually decorated with a design incised into the body and covered with an iron oxide glaze. When fired in a reducing atmosphere, the glaze produces a blue-green shade and highlights the incised design. [Right: Plate; Early celadon. Arita or Hasami; mid 17th century; EA1995.69]

The term 'celadon' is derived from the name of a shepherd called Céladon, who wore a distinctive grey-green costume in an early 17th century French pastoral romantic play L'Astreé by Honore D'Urfé.

Enamel Ware

An enamel is a lead glaze containing metallic oxides which produces a soft-melting glass. The mixture of oxides determines the colour of the enamel. This can be used to decorate pottery, metal or glass. The enamel is usually painted onto the surface of an already glazed pot (onglaze decoration) and is sealed to the surface by a further low-temperature firing in a muffle kiln. [Right: Bottle; Early Enamelled Ware, Arita; 1660-80; EA1978.689]

Enamels were painted onto underglaze blue, celadon and plain white wares.

White Ware
This refers to porcelain ware without coloured decoration. Some of this ware together with some blue and white ware was ordered by European traders for decoration by their own European enamellers to their own designs. [Right: Gallipot; White, Arita; late 17th century; EA1978.775]
Evolution of production Background

Back to Introduction

Classification on Porcelain
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