The Kraak Porcelain


The Kraak Porcelain

The kraak procelain originated from the kilns of Jingdezhen territory in China between 1580-1640 A.D. Produced during the reign of Emperor Wan-li (1573-1620 A.D.) until Emperor Tien-chi (1621 – 1627 A.D.), the blue-white porcelain was used to make daily utensils such as bowls, cups, saucers and plates. Some were also made into wash basins and big serving plates. Made using moulds, this porcelain was thin and decorated with blue cobalt underneath the glaze. Kraak porcelain was at its of production during the first quarter of the 17th century but declined with the downfall of the Ming Dynasty. Decorated with sceneries of water birds, trees and rocks, the paintings were usually done with thick lines and divided into 8 to 12 panels.

It was called the kraak procelain based on the various assumptions:

i.The Europeans, through the Dutch East India Company (V.O.C.), began ordering the porcelain from China, with custom-made designs. 

ii.The porcelain was so thin that Japanese connoisseurs felt they were fragile enough to be eaten by cockroaches.

iii.The Iberian word "kraak" or "carrack" means a ship crossing the ocean. The Portuguese were the aggressive seafarers at the end of the 15th century.

iv.The sunken cargo ship, Santa Catarina on its way to Goa from Macao had its goods seized by the Dutch in the sea south of Johore in 1603. The goods were later auctioned for 3.5 million guilders. Western collectors called the auctioned porcelain, kraak.

This porcelain eventually lost its popularity towards the end of the 17th century during the transition period between the Ming and the Ching Dynasty. With the English taking over the trade with China, products from the Jingdezhen kilns began to face competition from manufacturers in Swatow, whose products were relatively cheaper and bore newer designs known as san sui or willow pattern. Traces of this porcelain were discovered in areas along the silk routes (sea) such as the coasts of Africa, Middle Asia, Kamakura in Japan, the Philippines, the Pahang River, Tioman Island, Kota Tinggi and Johor Lama in Johor and also in Kedah.

European craftsmen began designing ceramic patterns and motifs using glaze or thin gilt in Savono, Rouen and Delft only after seeing the kraak porcelain. They also imitated the elements of porcelain decoration especially the blue enamel and other eastern influences. The Museum of Asian Art displays some of the Kraak porcelain. There are a few Kraak plates in its collection that are large with a diameter of more than 1ft.

Museum of Asian Art
University of Malaya,
50603 Kuala Lumpur.

Tel  : 603- 7967 3805 / 7967 3936 /

         7967 3849

Fax : 603- 7967 3985
e-mail :