European cobalt sources identified in the production of Chinese famille rose porcelain

Publication date: April 2017Source:Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 80
Author(s): Rita Giannini, Ian C. Freestone, Andrew J. Shortland
The blue pigments on 112 fragments or small objects of Qing Dynasty Chinese, 95 of underglaze blue and white and 17 overglaze enamelled porcelains were analysed by LA-ICPMS. The underglaze blues on both blue and white and polychrome objects were created with a cobalt pigment that was rich in manganese with lesser nickel and zinc. This suite of accessory elements is generally considered to be characteristic of local, Chinese, sources of pigments. However, the blue enamels were very different. The cobalt pigment here has low levels of manganese and instead is rich in nickel, zinc, arsenic and bismuth. No Chinese source of cobalt with these characteristics is known, but they closely match the elements found in the contemporary cobalt source at Erzgebirge in Germany. Textual evidence has been interpreted to suggest that some enamel pigment technologies were transferred from Europe to China, but this is the first analytical evidence to be found that an enamel pigment itself was imported. It is possible that this pigment was imported in the form of cobalt coloured glass, or smalt, which might account for its use in enamels, but not in an underglaze, where the colour might be susceptible to running. Furthermore, the European cobalt would have given a purer shade of blue than the manganese-rich Chinese cobalt.

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