Qingbai Bowl, Southern Song dynasty, porcelain (12th Century)

Qingbai Bowl, Southern Song dynasty, porcelain (12th Century)
Accession number: 
Winchester College Collections

This is an example of Qingbai porcelain, which was made during the Song (960-1279) and Yuan dynasties (1279-1368). It was primarily produced in the province of Jiangxi, in south-east China, particularly in the city of Jingdezhen. They typically feature a white, porcelain body, fired with a glaze to produce a slight blue-green tint. Qingbai wares came in the form of plates, bowls, funerary urns and small Buddha statues. The decoration was achieved through a variety of techniques, such as carving with a knife or pressing in patterns. Since the shape and decoration had much in common with Ding ware from northern China, Qingbai ware was once known as ‘Southern Ding’.

This was the first type of porcelain to be produced on a very large scale, and while they were not a prestigious ware until several centuries later, they were highly sought after in middle-rank Chinese markets. They were described by Marco Polo (1254-1324) as “the most beautiful cups in the world”.

This bowl is an example of the types of commodities that would have been traded between Asia and Europe before the Age of Exploration. Another example is the Fonthill Vase, which was presented to Louis the Great of Hungary (ruled 1342-82) by a Chinese embassy on their way to visit Pope Benedict XII (1334-42) in 1338, and is the earliest documented surviving Chinese ceramic to have arrived in Europe during the medieval period. This shows that there were trade links with the Far East long before the voyages of exploration.