Commemorating Place on Porcelain: A Comparative and Stylistic Analysis of Hong Bowls of the Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries and the Position of these Objects in Global Ceramic History

  • JOHNSTON, John (PI)

Project: Research project

Project Details


Hong bowls, made in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, are an important group of Chinese porcelain objects made for the export market. The term ‘Hong bowl’ derives from the Cantonese pronunciation of the character 行, which refers to both the merchants who managed sanctioned international trade in Guangzhou and the buildings located on the Pearl River waterfront where Western nations conducted trade. These buildings served as both warehouses and residences. These large bowls are decorated with scenes of the historically important Hongs of Canton. The intricate and finely rendered scenes are among the most artistically accomplished paintings found on Chinese export porcelain. Numerous major museums in Europe, North America and Asia have examples of Hong bowls in their collections. Despite the contextual and art historical importance of Hong bowls, there are a number of unanswered questions about these works, including the number and location of extant Hong bowls, their stylistic chronology, the sources of their imagery, their manufacturing sites and their position in the history of global ceramics. The proposed research project will be the first lengthy study devoted entirely to Hong bowls, and it will make significant and original contributions to our understanding of these highly regarded works of art.

An important outcome of the proposed research will be a database containing images and relevant object information of all known Hong bowls. By contacting museum curators, collectors and other interested parties, this project will be the first to bring together a large number of examples of Hong bowls. This database of known works, including more than 50 bowls, will allow for an in-depth stylistic and comparative analysis of Hong bowls, which will help to establish a stylistic chronology and will reveal major themes and common decorative elements.

This study will also place Hong bowls in the context of global ceramic history. For example, these bowls exhibit a very different means of commemorating specific sites than Chinese porcelain objects made for the domestic market. The study will also use these objects to highlight the key role of Guangzhou in the export of Chinese porcelain. A new contextual analysis of the imagery found on Hong bowls will extend the story beyond the Canton systems with which the bowls are most often associated.

The proposed research project will result in a fully illustrated book on Hong bowls. The book will feature the key findings of the stylistic and comparative analyses and place these objects in the context of global ceramic history. Another outcome will be an online exhibition of Hong bowls that will increase the general public’s appreciation and understanding of these important objects. The Hong bowl database will be provided to museums and other interested parties to advance the general knowledge of these objects and to provide the opportunity for further analyses and contextualisation.

Effective start/end date1/10/1730/09/19


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