Blue and white porcelain, also commonly known as blue and white china, is a form of pottery that features a white background over which a blue design has been applied. Its history can be traced back to 14th-century China, where it was crafted using hand painting and translucent glazing techniques. In the 17th century, blue and white porcelain became popular in Europe, and large-scale efforts were made to reproduce Chinese pieces. Lacking the raw materials and technical knowledge necessary to produce pieces in the Chinese style, however, European pottery manufacturers were required to devise new methods for creating blue and white ware.
As its name suggests, blue and white porcelain is pottery which features a white background embellished with a blue design. The range of porcelain items which fit this description is very broad. Some of the most common forms of this type of pottery, however, are plates, bowls, cups, and vases. Common designs featured on these pieces include floral motifs, mythical creatures such as dragons, scenes from stories, and Chinese characters.
The history of blue and white porcelain can be traced back to 14th-century China. At this time, Chinese potters began crafting items from a native white clay called kaolin. Once hardened, the items were hand-painted with designs using blue cobalt pigment, coated with a clear glaze, and then fired in an extremely hot kiln. After firing, the finished pieces were quite delicate in appearance, but also very durable. As of the 21st century, blue and white ware continues to be widely produced in China, and carries such a strong association with the nation that it has come to be commonly referred to as blue and white china.
In the 17th century, blue and white porcelain became popular in Europe, and pottery manufacturers began large-scale efforts to produce pieces that closely resembled Chinese ware. These manufacturers lacked both the raw materials — namely kaolin clay — as well as the technical knowledge necessary to reproduce the Chinese style exactly. Consequently, they devised a new production technique which suited their resources and abilities. Their pieces featured stamped or stenciled rather than hand-painted designs, and utilized an opaque white glaze to hide the dark hue of European clay. Some European manufacturers of blue and white ware, particularly those in the Delft region of the Netherlands as well as parts of England, achieved a widespread popularity which continues into the 21st century.