Perhaps the first truly global commodity, blue-and-white porcelains reached a wider audience than any other type of ceramic. Sent from China to locations as far afield as Africa, they inspired potters in major centres around the world to produce elegant ceramics of their own design. They were also the first to be widely collected in Europe, sparking a craze for things Chinese that would last well into the nineteenth century.
The earliest surviving Chinese blue-and-white ceramics were made in the Tang period (618–907), when kilns in northern China dominated the production of high-fired white stoneware and porcelain. A shared creation of China and the Islamic Middle East, they were decorated with cobalt blue imported from northeast Persia, using techniques invented by potters in Basra, Iraq to embellish earthenwares.
In the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing dynasties (1644–1911), blue-and-white porcelain dominated the export trade. Millions of ceramics were sent around the world from important ports such as Canton (Guangzhou) and Quanzhou. Tailored to certain markets, they remained the most popular export form until the end of the seventeenth century, when growing European interest in wares decorated with coats of arms encouraged the use of colourful enamels that allowed for more accurate depictions of heraldry.