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"Blue and white wares" (Chinese: 青花; pinyin: qīng-huā; literally: "Blue flowers") designate white pottery and porcelain decorated under the glaze with a blue pigment, generally cobalt oxide. The decoration is commonly applied by hand, by stencilling or by transfer-printing, though other methods of application have also been used.
The first Chinese blue and white wares were as early as the ninth century in Henan province, China; although only shards have been discovered. Tang period blue-and-white is even rarer than Song blue-and-white and was unknown before 1985. The Tang pieces are not porcelain however, but rather earthenwares with greenish white slip, using cobalt blue pigments. The only three pieces of complete "Tang blue and white" in the world were recovered from Indonesian Belitung shipwreck in 1998 and later sold to Singapore.
In the early 14th century mass-production of fine, translucent, blue and white porcelain started at Jingdezhen, sometimes called the porcelain capital of China. This development was due to the combination of Chinese techniques and Islamic trade. The new ware was made possible by the export ofcobalt from Persia (called Huihui qing, 回回青, "Islamic blue"), combined with the translucent white quality of Chinese porcelain. Cobalt blue was considered as a precious commodity, with a value about twice that of gold. Motifs also draw inspiration from Islamic decorations. A large portion of these blue-and-white wares was then shipped to Southwest-Asian markets through the Muslim traders based in Guangzhou.
Chinese blue and white porcelain was once-fired: after the porcelain body was dried, decorated with refined cobalt-blue pigment mixed with water and applied using a brush, coated with a clear glaze and fired at high temperature. From the 16th century, local sources of cobalt blue started to be developed, although Persian cobalt remained the most expensive. Production of blue and white wares has continued at Jingdezhen to this day. Blue and white porcelain made at Jingdezhen probably reached the height of its technical excellence during the reign of the Kangxi Emperor of the Qing dynasty (r. 1661–1722).
Chinese blue and white ware became extremely popular in the Middle-East from the 14th century, where both Chinese and Islamic types coexisted.
From the 13th century, Chinese pictorial designs, such as flying cranes, dragons and lotus flowers also started to appear in the ceramic productions of the Near-East, especially in Syria and Egypt.
Chinese porcelain of the 14th or 15th century was transmitted to the Middle-East and the Near East, and especially to theOttoman Empire either through gifts or through war booty. Chinese designs were extremely influential with the pottery manufacturers at Iznik, Turkey. The Ming "grape" design in particular was highly popular and was extensively reproduced under the Ottoman Empire.
Chinese blue-and-white ware were copied in Europe from the 16th century, with the faience blue-and-white technique called alla porcelana. Soon after the first experiments to reproduce the material of Chinese blue-and-white porcelain were made with Medici porcelain. These early works seem to be mixing influences from Islamic as well as Chinese blue-and-white wares.