The Ming Dynasty was one of China’s most important dynasties in terms of technological and artistic advancement. A peasant founded the Ming Dynasty in 1368, and it lasted until 1644. This peasant, known as Hongwu, drove the Mongols out of China, bringing an end to the Yuan Dynasty. During the Ming period, China’s literature advanced through the use of the novel, as did architecture with the building of the Great Wall of China. However, it is the pottery of the Ming Dynasty that became synonymous with that era. The many distinct features of Ming pottery help to identify it.
Examine the form of the piece of pottery. Ming pottery usually takes the form of a utensil, such as a bowl, vase or plate. Seldom were pieces created to be mere decorations during this era.
Check to see if the piece is composed of white porcelain. Porcelain is clay that is fired at high temperatures, producing a white, glass-like finish called blanc de chine. Artists of the Ming era developed this clay-firing technique.
Look at the color of the design on the white porcelain. Normally, Ming pottery has a blue design painted on it, often of a dragon or a phoenix. The blue pigment was made of powdered cobalt that was painted over the porcelain.
Check for any dark, almost-black spots in the designs. These spots occur because the cobalt powder is uneven and clumps up in spots. When the artist puts a thick coat of glaze over the object and re-fires it, these thick spots of cobalt break through the surface.
Look at the underside of the pottery for an emperor’s mark. Artists did not put their own names on the pottery. Instead, they put the mark of their emperor. These marks usually consisted of four to six characters, depending on who ruled at the time.
Examine the bottom edges. In Ming pottery, looking at the inner edges should reveal a blue-green ring left by the glaze during the firing. The outer edge is unglazed and should have brown-red ring.