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Japanese porcelain Hirado ware paperweight with chrysanthemums and plum blossoms, underglaze blue and brown, 19th-century
Dish with cypress, Turkey, Iznik, c. 1575, underglaze-painted stonepaste - Royal Ontario Museum - DSC04735

Underglaze is a method of decorating pottery in which painted decoration is applied to the surface before it is covered with a transparent ceramic glaze and fired in a kiln. Because the glaze subsequently covers it, such decoration is completely durable, and it also allows the production of pottery with a surface that has a uniform sheen. Underglaze decoration uses pigments derived from oxides which fuse with the glaze when the piece is fired in a kiln. It is also a cheaper method, as only a single firing is needed, whereas overglaze decoration requires a second firing at a lower temperature.

However, because the main or glost firing is at a higher temperature than used in overglaze decoration, the range of available colours is more limited, and was especially so for porcelain in historical times, as the firing temperature required for the porcelain body is especially high. Early porcelain was largely restricted to underglaze blue, and a range of browns and reds. Other colours turned black in a high-temperature firing.

Examples of oxides that do not lose their colour during a glost firing are the cobalt blue made famous by Chinese Ming dynasty blue and white porcelain and the cobalt and turquoise blues, pale purple, sage green, and bole red characteristic of İznik pottery. The painting styles used are covered at (among other articles): china painting, blue and white pottery, tin-glazed pottery, maiolica, Egyptian faience, Delftware. In modern times a wider range of underglaze colours are available.

An archaeological excavation at the Tongguan kiln Site proved that the technology of underglazed color figure arose in the Tang and Five Dynasties periods and originated from Tonguan, Changsha.[1]


  • Fournier, Robert, Illustrated Dictionary of Practical Pottery (Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1973) ISBN 0-442-29950-8
  • Hamer, Frank, and Hamer, Janet, The Potter's Dictionary of Materials and Techniques (A&C Black/University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004) ISBN 0-8122-3810-9

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