Ancient Chinese Pottery and Ceramics

01
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Neolithic Period Pottery

Neolithic Storage Jar. Yang Shao. Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Neolithic Storage Jar. Yang Shao. Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Paul Gill

Early ceramics, during the Neolithic period (before bronze) were mostly utilitarian or ritual vessels made of clay and, generally, painted. By 4000 B.C. there were kilns in northern China that could reach 100 C. By 2000 years later, they were using a potter's wheel. There were variations in the appearance of these vessels depending on which ancient neolithic Chinese culture they came from. Among these cultures, there are Miao-ti-kou (4000-3000 B.C.), Ma-jia-yao/Yang-shao (4000-2000 B.C.), and Lung shan (3000-2000 B.C.).

This earthenware vessel was made by hand and has striations. Jars like this were used to pull water from river pools, but could also be used in funeral rituals. Yang Shao culture corresponds with modern Henan, Shaanxi, and Shanxi.

Yang Shao Water Vessel (5000-4000 B.C.) 31 1/8 x 8 7/8 in. (79.06 x 22.54 cm) MIA

For more information on Neolithic China, see:

  • "Archeology of Ancient China," by Kwang-Chih Chang. Science, New Series, Vol. 162, No. 3853 (Nov. 1, 1968), pp. 519-526.
  • "A New Vision of Classical China," by John H. Douglas. Science News, Vol. 106, No. 25/26 (Dec. 21-28, 1974), pp. 394-396.

For more information on the items of Chinese Pottery from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, see

Guide to Chinese Ceramics - The Art of Asia

02
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Ma-Jia-Yao Storage Vessel

Ma-jia-yao Storage Vessel. (4000-2000 B.C.) Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
Ma-jia-yao Storage Vessel. (4000-2000 B.C.) Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Paul Gill

Ma-Jia-Yao was an ancient neolithic Chinese culture of the upper Yellow River region in modern Gansu and Qinghai. Ma-Jia-Yao style usually uses black linear designs that are curving rather than geometric.

This earthenware storage vessel has a painted design on a burnished surface. The jar has different handles, one ornamented and one plain.

Ma-Jia-Yao Storage Vessel (3100-2700 B.C.). 14 3/16 x 12 13/16 x 11 13/16 in. (36.04 x 32.54 x 30 cm) MIA.

For more information on the items of Chinese Pottery from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, see Guide to Chinese Ceramics - The Art of Asia

For the connection between art and philosophy, see:
"An Exploration of the Mode of Thinking of Ancient China," by Liu Jingshan; Philosophy East and West Vol. 35, No. 4 (Oct., 1985), pp. 387-397.

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Lung-Shan Stemmed Cups

Lung-Shan Ceremonial Stemmed Cups. Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
Lung-Shan Ceremonial Stemmed Cups (2500-2000 B.C.) Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Paul Gill

The Lung-Shan culture of Neolithic China is known for its burnished black pottery, some of it eggshell thin, as distinct from painted pottery. The Lung-Shan (Longshan) culture was on the central and lower Yellow River on the plains in eastern China.

Such earthenware cups were made on a potter's wheel and kiln-fired to the black hue. These cups are from the second half of the third millennium B.C. and can be seen at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

For more information on the items of Chinese Pottery from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, see Guide to Chinese Ceramics - The Art of Asia

04
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Warring States Storage Jar

Warring States Period Storage Jar. Porcelanous stoneware with glaze.
Warring States Period Storage Jar. Porcelanous stoneware with glaze. Paul Gill

During the bronze age, pottery imitated bronzeware styles. This high-fired fluted storage jar is an example from the Warring States period (the era of the fifth century Sun-Tzu, author of The Art of War) of early celadon ware -- material that is typically very pale green, which was developed before porcelain. Vessels like this have been found in tombs in southeastern China and date to 475-221 B.C.

This jar in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts collection is 11 x 14 3/4 in. (27.94 x 37.47 cm).

For more information on the items of Chinese Pottery from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, see Guide to Chinese Ceramics - The Art of Asia

05
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Yueh Ware

Yueh Ware Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
Yueh Ware Minneapolis Institute of Arts. NSGill

Yueh ware refers to high-fired celadon (usually green glaze, porcelanous) wares from the Warring States period to the early Sung Dynasty, mainly produced in the kindgom of Yueh. Celadon started before porcelain proper.

For more information on the items of Chinese Pottery from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, see Guide to Chinese Ceramics - The Art of Asia

06
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Han Figure of a Squatting Drummer

Han Figure of a Squatting Drummer. Eastern Han Dynasty (A.D. 25-220) Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
Figure of a Squatting Drummer. Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Paul Gill

Tomb figure of a squatting drummer for entertainment during the afterlife. His facial expression is smiling and laughable. It's thought the drummer may be a dwarf.

Eastern Han dynasty (A.D. 25-220) Earthenware 23 3/4 x 17 x 15 3/4 in. (60.33 x 43.18 x 40.01 cm). MIA

For more information on the items of Chinese Pottery from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, see Guide to Chinese Ceramics - The Art of Asia

07
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Tang White Ware

Pheasant Head Ewer Minneapolis Institute of Arts T'ang Dynasty
Pheasant Head Ewer Minneapolis Institute of Arts T'ang Dynasty. Paul Gill

The T'ang (Tang) Dynasty (618-907) is the period when real porcelain began in China. This pheasant head is the cap for the bottle.

Ewer with Pheasant-Head Stopper T'ang dynasty Hsing ware Porcelaneous stoneware with clear glaze 12 x 6 3/4 x 6 3/4 in. (30.48 x 17.15 x 17.15 cm) Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

For more information on the items of Chinese Pottery from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, see Guide to Chinese Ceramics - The Art of Asia

The Aztecs had bird motifs on their pottery. See Aztec Vulture Pot from the About.com Guide to Pottery.

08
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Tang Dynasty Tomb Figure

Bactrian Camel and Driver. Tang Dynasty. Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
Bactrian Camel and Driver. Tang Dynasty. Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Paul Gill

This tomb figure shows a Bactrian camel and a central Asian driver from the silk trade route.

Tomb Figure of a Kneeling Camel with Driver. Tang dynasty Red earthenware with traces of slip and polychromy 9 3/4 x 13 in. (24.77 x 33.02 cm). MIA

For more information on the items of Chinese Pottery from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, see Guide to Chinese Ceramics - The Art of Asia