Blanc de Chine
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, porcelain made in the kilns of Dehua in Fujian province, southern China began to attract the attention of European merchants. Many objects were brought back to Europe where this type of white Dehua porcelain became known as blanc de Chine (French for ‘white of China’).
The Dehua kilns specialised in whitewares, the most highly prized of which were coated in an ivory-coloured glaze. The earliest pieces of Dehua porcelain were made of locally mined porcelain stone (a type of pulverised feldspathic rock), with little or no kaolin clay, and that were thinly potted. Unlike Jingdezhen, the Dehua kilns had no access to water transportation, and until the arrival of foreign merchants most of its productions were sold locally.
The most common types of Dehua products were incense burners and Buddhist figures. In China and Southeast Asia, these were generally placed on household altars and the latter were worshipped as devotional images. They were also brought to Europe as exotic curiosity items, where they were placed on tables and cabinets in the residences of aristocrats and wealthy individuals, or else exhibited in ‘porcelain rooms’.
By the eighteenth century, Europeans were extremely familiar with Chinese polychrome ceramics, and Dehua wares simply may have been seen as too plain in comparison. Many were gilded or enamelled in Europe to make them more attractive to customers. The Dehua kilns also produced objects tailored for the European market, including figures of Dutch men and women, and of the Virgin and Child. These wares were closely copied at European porcelain factories, notably at Meissen, Chantilly and Bow.