Week 10: Contextual analysis

Attached is the contextual analysis for the 9th CE Tang blue-and-white stoneware.


Contextual Analysis

This blue-and-white ware was made in China, probably Gongxian kilns, ca 830s
Stoneware, diameter 23 cm

9th Century Potters in both China and West Asia contributed to the ninth-century creation of the earliest known blue-and-white ceramics. It is a combination of China’s superior ceramics technology with the unique cobalt blue glaze of Iran.

Initially, Near Eastern traders of China shipped white stonewares and porcelain to West Asia where they attempted to copy them. They attempted to cover their earthenwares with a white tin glaze but did not achieve the same quality as the original. However, it is through this that they began decorating their new white wares with their cobalt blue glaze. Again, the means by which they were applying the blue glaze resulted in a less than stellar final product.

The earliest known blue-and-white stonewares were created as a result of the interaction between China and West Asia in the 9th century. The blue-and-white ceramics of the Belitung Shipwreck were painted with a blue glaze. The practice of painting with cobalt blue seems to have started with Basran potters. Despite being made in China, they used cobalt blue glaze that had likely been mined in Iran, which shows the level of globalisation already happening during the 9th century.

The Gongxian potters painted a lozenge pattern with flowers in the centre of it. This design appears on a variety of objects bound for the Abbasid, where the design originally developed. The lozenge motif is a design favoured in the Middle East, which again, shows the connection between China and the Middle East. It also possibly means that the Chinese were trying to create these plates for the Middle Eastern market which was the Abbasid Empire that includes modern-day Iran, Iraq, and the surrounding regions.

The blue-and-white dishes discovered with the ship are the first and earliest complete Chinese blue-and-white ceramics known to exist to date. This gives us insight into the birth of blue-and-white Chinese ceramics and its subsequent popularity among in the world – inspiring others to try to copy and eventually succeeding in achieving a similar quality.

While the blue-and-white stonewares of Gongxian kilns have been claimed to be the earliest examples of the design, it is only in the Jingdezhen kilns where blue-and-white porcelains really took off which then inspired the imitations and rush to create others of similar quality.


“Blue-and-White Dish.” Asian Civilisations Museum. Accessed November 1, 2018. https://www.acm.org.sg/galleries/tang-shipwreck.

Krahl, Regina. “Tang Blue-and-White.” In Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures And Monsoon Winds. Edited by Regina Krahl, John Guy, J. Keith Wilson, and Julian Raby. Washington, D.C.: Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; Singapore: National Heritage Board, Singapore Tourism Board, 2011.)

“The Cargo: Blue-and-White Ceramics from the Gongxian Kilns.” Asia Society. Accessed November 1, 2018. https://asiasociety.org/new-york/exhibitions/secrets-sea-tang-shipwreck-and-early-trade-asia.

Zhu, Feng and Jie Shao. “The Origin Of Blue-And-White And The Birth Of
Symbols.” Asian Social Science 5, no. 5 (2009): 77-81. Accessed April 1,
2017. http://www.ccsenet.org/journal/index.php/ass/article/viewFile/1712/1605.


Week Nine – Free Writing

This is a blue-and-white stoneware plate from China, found on the Tang Shipwreck so it would have likely been made around the 9th century. It is one of only three blue-and-white wares recovered. It is a regular sized plate

The first thing that catches my eye is the lozenge and foliage motifs in blue. The foliage motif curls around and expands outward from the lozenge motif. The strokes are controlled, which suggests that great precision and effort was placed to design this plate.

The lozenge motif holds particular significance to Islamic culture. From this, along with the knowledge of where the ship was headed, we can deduce that China’s kilns produced this blue-and-white ware for export to the Middle East who were, at that time, the Abbasid Empire.

Within the lozenge is a quatrefoil motif, which very closely resembles a flower. Its rim also has four sprig details, which are further apart from the details in the centre of the plate. The design of the plate is simple – It looks like an everyday plate, with the exception of the four subtle bumps on its rim. It seems to give off the effect that the plate is turning – kind of like a windmill. The space between the sprigs and the foliage could be suggesting movement from the element of wind blowing up the sprigs from the foliage. It makes the design feel dynamic despite the simplicity of its strokes and style.

The Chinese blue-and-white ware was a luxury good because no one else could produce that level of radiance in their stoneware. Looking at how deeply blue the dye is, it seems like an expensive, high-quality dye. From the image, we can see how the plate is giving off a shine from the museum lights. This suggests that a higher firing temperature was used that radiance, which probably means that it was a luxury good. From this, it can be said that the plate was for royalty or someone wealthy, as was probably the case for most Chinese blue-and-white wares.

Despite how unassuming this blue-and-white plate looks, when it is analysed deeper it reveals the craftsmanship that went into its creation. It reveals that this simple looking plate was probably highly sought after because of its craftsmanship. It reveals a richness in cultural exchange between China and the Middle East through trade.