This is undoubtedly the most important part of the J A van Tilburg Collection. It comprises 1699 pieces of earthenware, stoneware and porcelain dating from about 2000 BC until the early twentieth century.
Beautiful examples of Chinese ceramics from the Chin (221-206 BC), Han (202 BC – AD 220), Tang (AD 618-906), Song (AD 960-1279), Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) dynasties can be seen in this collection. There are also numerous and beautiful examples of Japanese Arita and Imari porcelain and Annamese (Korean) ceramics, as well as 63 remarkable examples of early Delft earthenware. It includes plates, garnitures and flowerpots. In addition, there are three panels with 50 17th-century Delft tiles.
It would not do justice to any discussion of the Collection by not referring to some of the exceptional ceramic pieces. Among the older pieces the collection of coloured Tang funerary wares is particularly outstanding. There is a beige amphora with dragon handles, a typical polychrome figure of Ch’I-t’ou with an animal head and a ’three-colour’ (green/brown/yellow) phoenix head pilgrim’s flask. It is, however, the demonic tomb guardians which are the most characteristic of the tomb ceramics of the Tang dynasty and which immediately draw the attention to the collection, such as the awe-inspiring figure of Fang-Hsiang standing on a reclining bull. These guardians are made partly in human and partly in animal form and had to keep evil spirits away from the tombs of the dead. One of the most imposing pieces among the Tang wares is a dark brown early Tang pot, which was originally given to a Toaist monastery by the second Tang emperor, T’ang T’ai-tsung, to commemorate his victory in AD 630.
The Van Tilburg Collection contains a representative collection of Song wares: many Celadons, a few Ding wares, a few Cizhou wares and a few Chün wares. Celadons are the best known of all Song ceramics. They are specifically characterised by the beautiful semi-translucent green glaze, which varies in colour from a pale grey-green to a deep olive-green. For seven centuries, these wares were the main products of Chinese trade with Asia Minor. Celadons were very popular in the Arabian world because the Arabs believed that such bowls would crack if wine-containing poison was poured into them. Ding-yao wares are the oldest of the Song wares and are characterised by unglazed rims, as they were fired upside down in the ovens. They were further decorated with fine reliefs under the ivory or pale yellow glazes. There are four such bowls in the Van Tilburg Collection. Particularly outstanding amongst the Yingqing wares is a large funeral urn with lid. The nine Cizhou pots in the collection show how the Chinese potters covered these pots with a cream-coloured or dark-brown slip and scratched out floral motifs on their surfaces to allow the lighter background to show through. Others show flowers painted in broad brushstrokes on the cream-coloured pots.
Chün wares are unmistakable because of their exceptional colours, especially the irregular flames and blotches of blue, purple and crimson. Because these wares were so colourful, the Chinese connoisseurs considered them inferior and jokingly referred to them as ’horse lungs’ and ’donkey liver’. There are seven such pots in this collection.
The Ming dynasty is not only characterised by the beautiful blue-and-white porcelains, but also by the fine polychrome porcelains and earthenware. This collection contains 550 pieces of Ming porcelain, of which 323 pieces are underglaze blue-and-white. The most important aspect of the decoration of Ming porcelain is found in the painting, especially in the underglaze blue wares, which are found in all possible nuances and variations, from the most beautiful soft fine silver blues to the dark black-blues. This variation is very evident in the 40 large Ming Swatow chargers, but it is even stronger in the many smaller objects such as bowls, flasks, plates and cups. Excellent examples of Chenhua (1465-1487), Hongzhi (1488-1505), Zhengde (1506-1521), Jiajing (1522-1566) and Wanli (1573-1619) wares are found in the Collection. Especially significant in these examples is the greenish tint of the translucent glaze and the fact that the forms are never finished to perfection.
The Qing wares in the Van Tilburg Collection are so exceptional that it is almost impossible to single out any one particular piece. The perfection of the forms and the clarity of the underglaze blues is especially striking.
Noteworthy pieces from the reigns of Emperors Kangxi (1662-1722) and Qianlong (1736-1795) are the large blue-and-white porcelain chargers, and the underglaze red pots and beautiful blue-and-white ritual stand with two side vases. Numerous polychrome Kangxi ’Famille verte’ and Qianlong ’Famille rose’ plates in the collection give a clear idea of how polychrome enamels were combined with underglaze blue. Particularly relevant here is a pair of ‘Famille noire’ pots which actually belonged to the Emperor Kangxi.
There are also a number of Imperial Japanese pieces in the collection, among them a blue-and-white Arita gendi with Arabian ormulo mouldings, an early 19th-century blue-and-white Arita charger decorated with a floral still life and pomegranates, a large blue-and-white vase decorated with priests and flowers, and many polychrome pieces of Japanese porcelain, such as a number of Imari tea sets and plates and a beautiful Kakeimon plate from about 1650 decorated with eight panels and a landscape.
The Van Tilburg Collection has an outstanding collection of Swatow pots, bowls, plates and chargers representing all the different decoration styles. However, the collection of Martavans and the beautiful Annamese bowls and pots also deserve special mention.