With the easy warmth of longer summer months comes the nostalgic elegance of blue and white palettes. This combination of colors can be traced back to the 9th century, originating from the Middle East and perfected in China. Today, blues and whites can be found in a plethora of iterations, not surprising as the color combination is symbolic of sky and sea – the quintessential summer day.
Here at Pagoda Red the mind immediately turns to classic Chinese porcelain pottery, its presence gracing tables with bursts of narrative or settled comfortably in a lush garden. It has been exciting to see international designers such as Carrier and Co. (Architectural Digest, June 2014), Mark D. Sikes (Veranda, July-August 2014), and Juan Pablo Molyneux (Architectural Digest August 2014), incorporate blue and white Chinese vessels into their interior designs. Each project showcased the versatility and cohesiveness of classic Chinese design among design elements from all around the world.
Appreciation for the Chinese blue and white porcelain began during the 12th century when Mongolians, through conquest and trade, brought cobalt to China from present day Iraq and Iran. Cobalt is the chemical element that is responsible for the blue tint seen in the ceramic vessels. (For more information on cobalt and specific blue and white patterns check out our previous blog post here). When the Chinese first started using cobalt it was primarily in a pure concentrated form resulting in an intensely rich blue. The Chinese called this blue 回回青 (Hui hui qing)”, which literally translates to “return, return blue” – a blue doused again in blue. Also referred to as Muhammadan blue or Islam blue, this blue is still commonly used by Chinese designers today. In the 15th century Chinese ceramists discovered cobalt mixed with manganese resulting in the proliferation of lighter blue finishes.
Particularly fascinating are the various motifs found painted on the vessels themselves. While dragons, phoenixes, and other auspicious symbols were and still are the dominant subject matter of choice in China’s imagery. As China encountered more of the outside world, various influences began to seep onto the porcelain surface. For example, during the Ming and Qing dynasty it became more common place to find perspectival images of daily life. The subject matter and style was stylistically Western with a foreground and background and a penchant for realism.
Today the use of blue and white on porcelain has taken yet another turn. Many contemporary artists use the traditional colors to highlight modern aesthetics. Artists such as Deng Ying and July Zhou purposefully select blue and white porcelain to integrate the past with the present. Deng Ying paints isolated vignettes of daily life onto plates (below), resulting in a playful surprise for the fortunate user. The plates, not in literal consumptive use function as though one is looking through a telescope, one can gaze into a moment of contemporary life tinged with outlines of the past. (See more of Deng Ying’s work here)
Recently, Pagoda Red was part of the Eighth Annual East Hampton Antiques Show where blue and white porcelain was our main attraction. We created a modern installation by combining multiple pieces next to one another, resulting in a dynamic center piece on an earthy table. The actual blue sky and white clouds reflected softly off of the porcelain, a mixing of the real and representational, creating an entirely new composition. A harmonious flavor of Chinese antiques with daily life that Pagoda Red is grateful to experience.