9. Vietnam, 15th c. Bowl. Stoneware painted with underglaze cobalt blue. H. 6.7; D. 24.4 cm.
Although the peony in the interior of this bowl is a Chinese motif, its placement as the central medallion is distinctly Vietnamese; peonies on Chinese ceramics are more likely to occupy the horizontal register on vases. The base of the bowl is covered with a chocolate-brown mixture of clay and water, or slip. The covering of the bottom of a ceramic piece in this fashion is found on wares from Vietnam and Thailand, but has no technical explanation and the purpose of this slip remains unclear. The choice may have reflected aesthetic preferences, or it may have served a more practical function. For example, the brown base may have served to differentiate vessels used in religious or other types of ceremonies from those used in more mundane settings or it may have been a potter's mark or possibly a counting symbol of some sort (Asia Society).
Production of glazed ceramics began in Vietnam about two thousand years ago. The making of blue and white (cobalt) stoneware was spurred on by the Ming-period invasion and annexation of Vietnam from 1407 to 1428 and the imperial Chinese prohibition of the ceramic trade from 1436 to 1465. Originally used in Vietnam to replace the black underglaze iron decoration common on ceramics made during the 13th and 14th centuries, underglaze cobalt blue quickly became the most common color for painting Vietnamese ceramics.
Although the Chinese annexation of Vietnam may have provided the technology for blue-and-white wares, economic competition was an important stimulus in their development. By the 15th century, blue-and-white wares were the most popular ceramics in the world. Active markets for them existed in East Asia, throughout Southeast Asia, and in the Middle East. The Chinese prohibition of exporting ceramics for almost thirty years during this time of high demand provided an ideal opportunity for the Vietnamese ceramic industry to expand, and the Vietnamese reliance on Chinese prototypes was most likely a deliberate attempt to capitalize on the contemporary desire for Chinese-style wares (Freer Gallery notes).