Without seeking to form a collection with predetermined characteristics, it is, however, possible to establish a chronological and stylistic development, as shown by the fourteen pieces that are described in detail, covering both the Hang (206 BC-220 AD) and Tang (618-906 AD) dynasties, with pieces intended for the Chinese internal market, as well as the main periods of trade between China and the western world from the mid-16th to the 19th century.
As it is one of the most famous examples of the pioneering presence of the Portuguese discoverers in China, attention is drawn to the bottle of Jorge Álvares (cat. 232), dated 1552 and decorated in tones of underglaze cobalt blue, presenting one of the first inscriptions in the Portuguese language on Chinese porcelain. Dating from the same period is the large dish (cat. 233) exhibiting the Manueline armillary sphere and the Christian emblem “IHS”, the symbol of the Society of Jesus, founded by Ignatius of Loyola and officially recognised by Pope Paul III in 1540. The tea caddy (cat. 237) represents Ignatius of Loyola on each side, celebrating the bicentenary of the order’s foundation in 1740. In 1542, the Jesuit priests, Francisco de Xavier and Simão Rodrigues de Azevedo, reached the Orient, more precisely Goa, the starting point for a religious expansion, which was only accepted in China in 1582. In addition to the Jesuit initials, other religious marks such as the inscription “INRI” – Jesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum, which can be seen on the cup and saucer (cat. 236) representing the crucifixion of Christ, are also to be found on porcelain pieces for export.
The dish with the coat of arms of the Almeidas or Mellos (cat. 234), produced at the end of the 17th century, is one of the first such examples to be manufactured in the so-called Kraakporselein, proving that the Portuguese were the first to order this type of pieces, which displayed characteristics that announced the manufacture of porcelain pieces on a large scale. The kraak pieces, which were made of fine porcelain with cobalt blue decorations under a shiny and slightly bluish glaze and had a central theme that could include flowers, birds, insects and deer, as well as having the well and the rim of the dish treated as one and divided into panels that were mostly filled with flowers and symbolic motifs, are generally associated with the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie – VOC), which assumed control of the Chinese porcelain trade after 1605. The museum has a piece that is illustrative of this Chinese-Dutch trade, a dish (cat. 239) featuring the ship named Vrijburg, built in 1748 for the Zeeland Chamber of Commerce of the East India Company, which remained in activity until 1771.
Around 1680, polychrome enamels were introduced and the range of colours known as the famille verte, which included various shades of green combined with yellow, iron-red, brown, aubergine and black, dictated that “blue and white” decorations would be used for the more common pieces. Between c. 1705 and 1730, the “Chinese Imari” decoration, which combined underglaze blue together with red and gold, presented an alternative to the famille verte. The dish (cat. 235) is one of the richest examples of this form of decoration, which is also to be found represented in various other internationally famous collections.
In 1700, the English and French East India Companies also began to trade, a situation that increased the volume of orders, and from c. 1730 onwards the famille verte was succeeded by the famille rose, whose dominant enamel was pink, but which also included yellow, iron-red, green, blue, brown, black and gold. Porcelains whose form and decoration were mainly inspired by European silverware, earthenware and porcelain became the most popular pieces. Amongst other pieces influenced by western prototypes, the Museu do Caramulo has a chocolate-pot (cat. 241) inspired by a French silver model from the late 17th century and a pair of flower-boxes (cat. 242 and cat. 243) in the form of French Louis XV commodes from the second half of the 18th century.
Armorial porcelain occupies an extensive part of European commissions, most of these pieces being destined for the use of kings and various members of the clergy and nobility. Belonging to this category are a sauce-boat with the coat of arms of the Bishop of Porto, c. 1800-1810 (cat. 244), a dish covered with the coat of arms of Dom Luís de Castelo Branco Correia e Cunha, c. 1750 (cat. 238) and a tea-pot with the coat of arms of Manuel de Saldanha e Albuquerque, c. 1760 (cat. 240). These pieces, including the covered dish representing the Portuguese sailing-vessel “Brilhante” (cat. 245), were commissioned for the Portuguese market, being manufactured well after our domination of trade had dissipated and demonstrating the continued interest in Chinese porcelain, which has been maintained until the present day.