Kraak Porcelain

Kraak porcelain or Kraak ware is a style of Chinese porcelain produced exclusively for export. It was one of the first Chinese porcelain wares to arrive in Europe in significant volumes with the Dutch East India Company capable of transporting 100,000 to 250,000 pieces on a single ship!

Manufactured at the famed Jingdezhen kilns in Southern China, Kraak porcelain was made throughout the late Ming Dynasty, from the reign of the Wanli Emperor 1572-1620 up to that of the Chongzhen Emperor 1627-1644.

The distinctive porcelain is predominantly decorated in the underglaze cobalt blue and white manner, which was perfected and highly desirable in the Ming Dynasty period. Given that it was manufactured for the intention of shipping overseas it is hardly surprising that Chinese Kraak porcelain was most commonly produced in simple dish and bowl forms.

An interesting innovation of Kraak ware was the introduction of the ‘klapmuts’ bowl, a broader, more shallow adaptation of the traditional Chinese bowl. It is thought that the klapmuts was designed specifically for the European market, as Western cutlery, when used for soups or stews, would be more likely to chip its high-sided Chinese counterpart.

Kraak porcelainThe defining and most easily identifiable characteristic of Kraak designs is the use of radial lines to create segmented panels, each containing their own image. These panels are usually decorated with foliate motifs, which were not common in designs of the time intended for the domestic market.

The origins of the name Kraak are somewhat disputed, but the likeliest explanation is that it derives from the Portuguese word ‘carraca’. Carraca were three or four masted sailing ships developed by the Portuguese and Spanish in the 14th and 15th century and would have been the vessels that first brought the distinctive porcelain ware back to Europe.

Another more amusing suggestion is that Kraak derives from the Dutch verb ‘kraken’ meaning ‘to break or crack’. Given that chips and damages are far from unusual in Kraak ware, this explanation is not entirely without its merits. 

Kraak porcelainAn indication of the demand and importance of Kraak porcelain in Europe during the 17th century can be seen by its frequent use in still life and genre paintings of the Dutch Golden Age. Its use and display would not only indicate the wealthy status of the porcelain’s owner but would also add a fashionable cutting edge to any contemporary still life.

Given its immense popularity in Europe and the Middle Eastern market, Kraak ware was widely imitated, most notably in Arita ware porcelain from Japan, and the fine ceramics of the Safavid dynasty in Persia.

These markets would continue to supply Western demand following the collapse of the Ming Dynasty in 1644. Enterprising Dutch manufacturers then began reproducing Chinese Kraak designs at the nearby Delft potteries, dominating the European market until Chinese porcelain became available again in the early 1700s.

Click here to view examples of Kraak ware currently available from BADA members.