I had the same question

Since November I have spent my Fridays combing through the Museum’s vast China collection. Though we have thousands of vases, jades, and theatrical masks we only get to share a few in the new China exhibition. The first time I see an object from our collection my head fills with a million questions. But, those questions vanish by the time I finish the task of photographing and processing that object. 

As developers, it is important to rediscover those initial, impulse questions. The questions you asked about this Ming vase helped us remember our questions the first time we saw it. We wrote labels (see below) in response to your questions that were shared last week at Members' Night. Some members added sticky notes with additional questions of their own. 

As we continue the difficult task of narrowing down the objects for the China exhibition we will try to look at things with fresh eyes. Even if I have seen a hundred Ming vases, you may have the chance to see just this one.

Note: These labels were samples written quickly, without final curator approval. So, if you can, please cut us some slack!


1. Where was it found and how old is it? -Terri

Impact on the world

“China” is a word we use to refer to some kinds of ceramics precisely because Chinese porcelain from this period (Ming Dynasty, 1368-1644) became famous around the world. European artists started copying Ming blue and white porcelain in the 1500s.  European “willow pattern” china comes from this time period and is still being made today.

2. I love to learn about animal and plant imagery found in art and what meaning it had in that culture. -Dana


Chrysanthemum flowers cover this vase. Chrysanthemums are native to Asia and show up frequently in Chinese art.  Chrysanthemums bloom in late fall and early winter, so they symbolize the season of autumn. Because they bloom even after the first snow falls, they also symbolize long life and endurance.

3. Can you give us insight to the artisans who created these vases? –Daryl


For the past thousand years the city of Jingdezhen has been known as China’s “Porcelain Capital”. In the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) the city became increasingly dedicated to porcelain production, transitioning from market to full-scale industrial center. Everyday thousands of laborers carried clay from nearby mines and sweated over massive kilns while artisans carefully painted eggshell-thin porcelain vessels.

4. I'm sure you'll cover this... but can you talk about the glaze and the painting, et cetera? -Caitlin

Outside influences

It may look like the iconic object that everyone imagines when they think of China, but the blue glaze is actually an import from Iran. In fact, in the early Ming Dynasty, blue and white porcelain fell out of favor at court because it was seen as too foreign. However, it regained popularity and, ironically, these same blue and white vases have come to symbolize the Ming Dynasty to Western audiences.

5. Why was it made? Functional? Nice to look at? To show off? –Mary

Symbols of Status

Some Ming vases are worth more than others. Civilian kilns made less-expensive porcelains for the average buyer and royal kilns produced high-quality porcelain exclusively for the imperial family. Highly specialized painters inscribed these imperial wares with the emperor’s mark. Some dishonest merchants forged this mark so they could charge more for lower quality goods.