White Gold: The Story of Chinese Blue and White Porcelain in Europe

In 1517 during the Age of Discovery the Portuguese explorers were the first Europeans to arrive in China by sea. They returned to Lisbon with precious pieces of "white gold"; magical hard-paste porcelain of translucent milky glaze detailed in cobalt blue. The late Ming Dynasty china decorated with fanciful scenes of landscapes of birds, insects and animals were a contrast to the dreary gray pottery used in Europe at the time. Rare and expensive they became the coveted choice of the Portuguese royalty and aristocracy who often embellished them with gold and silver mountings.

In 1602 and 1604 the Dutch captured two of Portugal's trading carracks that were laden with blue and white porcelains. The white gold was auctioned off to buyers including the kings of France and England. Trade with China was established by other European powers most specifically the Dutch East India Company who continued to import Ming porcelain until the fall of the dynasty in 1644. The desire for blue and white porcelain resulted in Europe expanding their trade to Japan. During the Kangxi period 1662-1772, China was again able to export their porcelain to Europe.