The Billings Collection is impressive in its breadth and depth, with many subjects and materials represented. It reveals the keen eye of collectors who delight in finding the ideal treasure and relating its story to others. The Still Life by the Dutch painter Jan Davidszoon de Heem incorporates a Chinese Kraak ware bowl made for export. The ceramics range in date from the Neolithic period to the Qing dynasty and demonstrate a wide variety of designs and glazes. Ritual bronze vessels as well as mirrors demonstrate the Chinese skill in casting. The Buddhist Lohan exemplifies the religion which originated in India and traveled throughout Asia, while a magnificent lady’s robe, court necklace, hats, and shoes illustrate the clothing and accessories worn by the elite in Imperial China.

About the Collectors

Carpet for Tibetan Buddhest Temple Column featuring a dragon among clouds.


China, Qing Dynasty, 1644–1911, Late 19th century
DBC 11066.1

This carpet was made to cover a column in a Tibetan Buddhist temple. It features a dragon among clouds, Buddhist symbols, and a stylized wave pattern at the base.

Pair Qing Dyn Vases

Gu-shaped Vases

China, Qing Dynasty, Kangxi Period
Porcelain with underglaze cobalt blue
DBC 11058.1/2

The shape of these vases is based on the archaic bronze wine vessel, gu. They were part of the “Vung Tau Cargo” on a ship bound for the Netherlands which sank of the coast of Vietnam in 1690. Each side is divided into honeycomb panels and decorated with Dutch-style canal houses on one side and Chinese fruit and floral designs on the other. This double arrangement is highly unusual.

Laquer Cabinet with seascape decoration.


Japan, 19th century
DBC 110035.1

This large chest has multiple compartments. The front shows detailed seascapes with sailing ships among flying cranes. The doors open to reveal images of turtles and pine trees, symbolizing long life, as well as bamboo representing resilience. This chest is impressive for its size and the exquisite quality of its workmanship.

Granite head of The Buddha

Head of a Buddha

China, Late Ming Dynasty, 1368–1644, 16th–17th centuries
DBC 11149.1

When the Buddha renounced his life as a prince, he cut his hair, which turned into snail shell curls over his head and ushnisha (cranial protuberance). Note also the urna, or tuft of hair between his eyes. He also removed his heavy earrings leaving elongated earlobes. His downcast eyes and smile indicate his serene state of enlightenment.

Still Life

Jan Davidszoon de Heem (1606–1684)
Netherlands, 17th century
Oil on canvas
DBC 11230.1

De Heem was one of the great painters of Dutch still lifes in the 17th century. He accurately rendered a variety of objects and used color brilliantly. The pertinent elements in this work are the Kraak ware bowl and the lobster, which is not usually included in Dutch still-life paintings. Various fruits, a wine glass, and a candlestick create a sumptuous array.

Tiger Headdress with antlers

Tiger Headdress

Mongolia, 17th–18th century
Wood, polychrome, antler
DBC 10585.1

David Billings saw this shaman’s headdress in New York City in the 1960s; years later he was able to collect it from the owner’s descendants.

Blue and white Kraak ware bowl


China, Wanli Period, 1573–1619
Kraak ware
DBC 11206.1

Kraak ware is a porcelain with underglaze cobalt blue made for export and transported on Portuguese carracks (Kraak in Dutch) or merchant ships to Holland. The Dutch copied it in their Delft ware. The charger features birds in a landscape surrounded by flowers and fruit. The bowl is decorated with officials and attendants and floral motifs. 

Charger decorated with fish


China, Qing Dynasty
Porcelain with overglaze enamels
DBC 10750.1

This exceptionally large charger is decorated with fish (possibly gui), the mandarin fish, and lotus plants. These motifs repeat around the cavetto. The vibrant overglaze enamels include iron-red, teal, yellow, green, and black.

porcelain plate with underglaze blue


Netherlands, ca. 1700
Porcelain with underglaze blue
DBC 10900.1

This Kraak style dish was made in at Delft in imitation of Chinese wares no longer available. Two ladies with attendants, additional figures, and flowers embellish the surface.

Porcelain bowl with underglaze blue


China, Ming Dynasty, 1368–1644
Porcelain with underglaze blue
DBC 10649.1

This exquisite bowl has delicate floral anhua or “hidden decoration” of lotus (for purity), prunus (for hope and the arrival of spring,) and chrysanthemum (for fall). A pair of pomegranates symbolizing fertility are painted under the glaze. The two character mark Nei Fu, “Inner Palace,” indicates that it was used in the imperial palace.

Porcelain plate with blue underglaze, Xuande mark.


China, Ming Dynasty, 1368–1644, Xuande Period, 1426–1435
Porcelain with underglaze blue
DBC 11012.1

This exquisite plate has a finely painted pair of blossoming and budding peony flowers and foliage, symbolizing wealth and prosperity. It has an imperial reign mark on its base.

rita ware with Armorial design


Japan, Edo Period, 1603–1868, mid-17th century
Arita ware porcelain with underglaze blue
DBC 10498.1

Arita ware is named for the town where it was made. This rare example of armorial porcelain made for the European market has a large crest in the center. The rim is decorated with auspicious fruit and flowers such as peaches, pomegranates, peonies and chrysanthemums.

Kraak Ware Plate, porcelain with underglaze blue


Japan, late 17th century
Porcelain with underglaze blue
DBC 10493.1

Japanese ceramicists began producing Kraak style porcelains to supply the Dutch market after the Chinese ceased making them due to the fall of the Ming dynasty. This plate features a grasshopper on a rock, flowers, and Buddhist symbols.


China, Song Dynasty, 960–1279 CE
Ding ware with molded fish design
DBC 11027.1

This dish is decorated with a pair of fish in a lotus pond surrounded with ducks among aquatic plants. Mandarin ducks mate for life and the word for lotus in Mandarin rhymes with year suggesting duration and expressing a wish for lasting marital love. Use of a mold enabled the potter to create a more complex design.

Dish, Swatow ware (porcelain with overglaze enamels)


China, Ming Dynasty, 1368–1644, Wanli Period, 1573–1619
Swatow ware
DBC 11232.1

Swatow wares are named for the kilns located near the port of Swatow in Guangdong province. They are crudely potted porcelain with coarse sand adhering to the base. They were exported in large numbers to Europe, the Near East, and Southeast Asia. This large example is vigorously painted in iron-red, turquoise, and green enamels with some black outlines over the glaze. Motifs include dragons chasing a pearl, flowers, and a pagoda in a landscape.



Korea, Koryo Dynasty, 935–1392 CE, 13th–14th centuries
Inlaid celadon
DBC 10701.1

The Koryo dynasty was the golden age of Korean ceramics. The celadons were outstanding with a blue-green glaze derived from iron oxide fired in a reduction kiln. They imitated Song dynasty wares ,and the Chinese considered them equal to theirs. Unique to Korea, inlay on celadon was invented by potters who incised the design and filled it in with black and white slips prior to glazing and firing. This bowl is decorated with four chrysanthemums associated with the fall season.

Qingbai ware bowl with incised lotus


China, Southern Song Dynasty, 1127–1279 CE
Qingbai ware with incised lotus
DBC 10979.1

This exquisite, thinly potted bowl has an incised lotus flower. The freehand carving is crisp and assured. The lotus symbolizes purity since it grows out of muddy water and is pure in hue.



Korea, Chosen Period, 14–16th centuries
Glazed stoneware
DBC 10533.1

This small bowl is an example of Punch’ong ware, a rendering of a Chinese technique which was also found in Japan. The stoneware body is incised with a circle and rope pattern. This is filled with white slip and coated with a celadon glaze whose greenish tint comes from iron fired in a reduction kiln.

Amber glazed flask


China, Liao Dynasty, 916–1125 CE
Amber glazed stoneware
DBC 10548.1

Flasks of this type are based on sewn leather liquid containers used by the nomadic Khitan tribe. It is embellished with raised applied bands which suggest straps.

Phoenix-headed Ewer, earthenware with sancai glaze

Phoenix-headed Ewer

China, Tang Dynasty, 618–907 CE
Earthenware with sancai glaze
DBC 10871.1

The phoenix is the most revered bird in Chinese culture, usually associated with the empress. One side of this ewer has a molded design of a horse with rider; the other a winged mythological dragon or horse. Three-color (sancai) lead glazes were developed in the Tang Dynasty. Iron oxide resulted in yellow to brown tones; copper oxide gave green and cobalt oxide blue. The light-colored bodies made for brighter colors.

Long-necked Vase, earthenware with sancai glaze

Long-necked Vase

China, Tang Dynasty, 618–907 CE
Earthenware with sancai glaze
DBC 10872.1

The ovoid body is covered with mottled green and amber glazes. Two loop handles are applied to the shoulder.

Armorial Sweet Meat Dishes, porcelain with overglaze enamel Billings family crest

Armorial Sweetmeat Dishes

China, Qing Dynasty, 1644–1911, mid-18th century
Porcelain with underglaze blue, overglaze enamels and gilding
DBC 10460.1/8

This seven-piece sweetmeat set is a highly unusual form for export porcelain. It is decorated with floral sprays and the armorial crest of the American Billings family. It was ordered for merchant Frederick Billings (1823–1890) of Woodstock, Vermont.

Earthenware pillow and decorated with a phoenix


China, Yuan Dynasty, 1279–1368
Cizhou ware
DBC 10540.1

This unusually large pillow is fashioned out of earthenware and decorated with a phoenix in flight. The upper surface provided an ideal opportunity for the potter to paint an exuberant image of the auspicious bird. Typical of many Cizhou wares, the sgrafitto technique accentuates the design by scratching through the bright blue, green, brown, and white glazes.

Porcelain Ding ware pillow


China, Northern Song Dynasty, 960–1127
Ding ware
DBC 10944.1

Ding wares are named for the kilns where they were produced in Hebei province. They have a fine, hard, resonant white porcelain body and a mellow ivory glaze. In this example the glaze has a greenish-blue tinge where it is thick. The shape of this pillow is rare. The top is a ruyi or scepter incised with floral patterns. Below is a building with one door ajar and a figure.

Porcelain pillow in the shape of a tiger

Tiger Pillow

China, Yuan Dynasty, 1279–1368
Cizhou type
DBC 11243.1

Animal-form pillows were believed to protect against evil and to help women give birth to sons. This recumbent tiger rests its head on the front paws. The back is decorated with blossoming flowers. The design is fluidly painted in brown and russet slip on a white slip then covered with a clear glaze.

Charger, porcelain with underglaze blue


China, Ming Dynasty, 1368–1644
Kraak ware
DBC 10633.1

Porcelain moon shaped flask with clair de lune glaze,

Bianhu Moon Shaped Flask

China, Qing Dynasty, 1644–1911, reign of the Emperor Qianlong (1736–1795)
Porcelain with “clair de lune” glaze
DBC 10761.1

Originally made as a wine container in bronze, the bianhu or flattened hu shape was used for centuries. Qing potters were renowned for their monochrome glazes of which clair de lune or sky blue (tian qing) is one of the most treasured. The blue tint comes from cobalt oxide. There is a Qianlong reign mark in underglaze blue on the base.

Ovoid Jar, marbleized glazed earthenware,.

Ovoid Jar

China, Tang Dynasty, 618–907 CE
Marbleized glazed earthenware
DBC 10874.1

The marble technique was developed in the Tang dynasty when extraordinarily proficient potters twisted and kneaded together two different color clays to achieve a pattern reminiscent of wood grain. It was then covered with a clear glaze. Vessels made with this technique are rare, especially in this full, round form.

Two White porcelain jar with cobalt blue underglaze

Two Jars

China, Yuan Dynasty, 1279–1368
Porcelain with underglaze cobalt blue
DBC 11109.1, 11110.1

The most important innovation in ceramics during the Yuan dynasty was painting designs in cobalt blue on porcelain then coating the piece with a clear glaze, which at that time had a slight bluish cast. These two thickly potted globular jars are decorated with sketchily painted flowers.

Iron spotted Qingbai ware set

Ewer and Vase on Base

China, Yuan Dynasty, 1279–1368
Iron spotted Qingbai ware
DBC 10709.1/2, 10552.1

Iron began to be applied in spots on Qingbai ware during the Yuan dynasty. This would have been considered outrageous during the preceding Song dynasty when the rulers prized purity and restraint. The double gourd-shaped ewer sports a dragon handle. The vase is an unusual form with double handles and is raised on a pierced lozenge-shaped openwork base. Both were made for export throughout Southeast Asia, especially the Philippines.

Ewer and Warming Bowl, Qingbai

Ewer and Warming Bowl

China, Southern Song Dynasty, 1127–1279 CE
Qingbai ware
DBC 11030.1/3

This wine ewer has six lobes, a curved slender spout, and a lion-topped lid. The bowl, which would have held warm water, is in the shape of a lotus flower. Both are delicately incised and coated with a pale blue glaze. It is remarkable that the ewer and bowl have remained together.

Kendi or Ewer, porcelain with underglaze blue and overglaze enamels

Ewer or Kendi

China, Qing Dynasty, 1644–1911, reign of Emperor Kangxi (1662–1722)
Porcelain with underglaze blue and overglaze enamels and gold
DBC 11001.1/2

The palette and style of the decoration on this ewer was inspired by Japanese Arita-ware Imari porcelains. It combines blue and iron red to depict a flowering prunus tree and was made specifically for export.

Kendi, porcelain with underglaze copper red


China, Ming Dynasty, 1368–1644, Xuande Period, 1426–1435
Porcelain with underglaze copper red
DBC 10666.1

The crescent-moon shape of this kendi suggests it was made for export to Islamic countries in Southeast Asia, possibly Indonesia. It is decorated with a five-claw dragon in reverse on the white ground and bears a six-charter Xuande reign mark. The copper-red underglaze was very difficult to control in the kiln.

Jar, Banshan, painted earthenware,


China, Neolithic Period, Majiayao Culture, 3300–2000 BCE, Machang phase
Painted earthenware
DBC 10297.1

Large jars like this were used to store water or grain. They were coil built and kiln-fired at about 900 to 1000 degrees centigrade. The exuberant painted geometric decoration indicates the earliest use of a bruch in China. Surviving examples have usually been found in tombs.

Bronze Gu Vessel


China, Ming Dynasty, 1368–1644
DBC 10961.1

This ritual vessel was used for wine. It is a revival of a form and motifs dating back to the Shang dynasty.

Gu Form Vase, Dehua porcelain

Gu-form Vase

China, Ming Dynasty, 1368–1644, 17th century
Dehua porcelain
DBC 10514.1

Kilns in the vicinity of the town of Dehua in Fujian created fine-grained, vitreous white porcelains coated with a thick, smooth white glaze. They came to be known as blanc de Chine or China white. The shape of this vessel is based on the classic bronze wine goblet form, gu.

Stoneware Musical Libation Cup

Musical Libation Cup

Korea, Old Silla 57 BCE–935 CE, 5th–6th centuries
DBC 10635.1

This rare, fine libation cup was used in ritual ceremonies. It has a clay pellet inside to produce a musical sound. The perforations permit air to circulate during firing as well as to decorate the vessel. It is thinly potted and has a natural ash glaze.

Black earthenware Stem Cup

Stem Cup

China, Neolithic Period, Longshan Culture, 3000–1900 BCE
Black earthenware
DBC 11077.1

Fashioned from fine-grained clay, trimmed on a wheel to eggshell thinness and burnished, wares like this cup were fired to about 1000 degrees centigrade in a reduction kiln atmosphere. Reducing the oxygen in the kiln resulted in the iron-rich clay turning black. They were used in rituals and have been largely found in burials.

 Kraak ware Kendi


China, Ming Dynasty, 1368–1644, Wanli Period, 1573–1619
Kraak ware
DBC 11082.1

This is decorated with floral sprays alternating with bamboo. The neck has plantain leaves.

Grey beige glaze Kendi


China, Yuan Dynasty, 1279–1368
Glazed stoneware
DBC 10715.1

The hard grey body is covered with a grey beige glaze. Kendi were used for water in Buddhist rituals.

Earthenware storage jar

Storage Jar

Korea, Old Silla 57 BCE–935 CE, 4th–5th centuries
DBC 10751.1

Kimhae ware is named for the southern coastal region where it was made from about the 1st to 4th centuries CE. It was wheel thrown and fired in a climbing or tunnel kiln. It is decorated with an incised comb pattern.


China, Tang Dynasty, 618–907 CE
DBC 10300.1

Lively figures on galloping horses are enclosed by an ornate, foliate rim. Horses continued to indicate prestige and wealth during the Tang Dynasty.

Mirror, Bronze inlaid with gold and silver


China, Han Dynasty, 206 BCE–220 CE
Bronze inlaid with gold and silver
DBC 10441.1

This large mirror exhibits an impressive and intricate inlay technique.

Three small bronze mirrors


China, Han Dynasty, 206 BCE–220 CE
DBC 10144.1

This smaller mirror has crouching lions between bosses and a geometric design in the border. A silk cord passed through the knob served as a handle.


China, Western Zhou Dynasty, 1027–771 BCE
DBC 10429.1

This ritual food vessel stands on three flat stylized dragon legs. Geometric patterns embellish the bowl. Several characters cast into the interior are important early examples of Chinese writing.

Bronze food vessels

Pair of Covered Ding

China, Han Dynasty, 206 BCE–220 CE
DBC 10870.1/2

Pairs of food vessels like this are rare. The animal-shaped projections on the lid function as handles as well as feet when the cover is removed and set down.

Bronze Jue, wine goblet


China, Erlitou Period, ca. 1900–1600 BCE
DBC 10895.1


China, Shang Dynasty, ca. 1900–1027 BCE
DBC 10889.1

These two Jue, wine goblets, show the advances in technique and decoration made by bronze casters. The earlier one stands on three spindly legs and offers one of the earliest examples of decoration, dots and lines. The later one is more robust and has a bovine handle and taotie animal mask design. Cast in a piece mold, they would have been used for ritual ceremonies and then buried with their owners.

Porcelain vase  with tea dust glaze


China, Qing Dynasty, 1644–1911, reign of the Emperor Qianlong (1736–1795)
Porcelain with tea dust glaze
DBC 10786.1

Tea dust glazes were first achieved under Tang Yin (1682–1756), who was considered one of the greatest supervisors of the imperial kilns. They are based on earlier dark brown iron oxide glazes. This bears a Qianlong incised seal mark on the base.

Porcelain vase with oxblood glaze


China, Qing Dynasty, 1644–1911, reign of Emperor Kangxi (1662–1722)Porcelain with oxblood glaze
DBC 11185.1

Oxblood, sang de boeuf, or langyao glaze derives its red color from copper oxide fired in a reducing atmosphere. The name comes from Lang Tingji, who directed the official kilns at Jingdezhen from 1705 to 1712. It is believed he was responsible for the revival of monochrome wares and that the langyao glaze was developed under his supervision. This translucent glaze is thin at the top and becomes darker as it cascades down the body.

Porcelain vase with white glaze

Bottle Vase

China, Song Dynasty, 960–1279 CE
Porcelain with white glaze
DBC 10134.1

This vase is exceptional in form, color, and quality. The white glaze is lustrous and thick.

Figure of a torso wearing a priests robe

Torso of a Lohan

China, Tang Dynasty, 618–907
Painted pottery
DBC 11147.1

This figure represents one of the eighteen disciples of Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha. At his death, Shakyamuni charged them with maintaining the faith through preaching his teachings. Their varied age is suggested by this youthful figure, with his sensitively modelled features, in particular his eyes and mouth.

Woman’s Coral Colored Robe

Woman’s Coral Colored Robe

China, Qing Dynasty, 1644–1911, 19th century
DBC 11159.1

Large brocade rondels with dragons are woven into the silk. The trim is embroidered with auspicious symbols and cranes.

Two red Asian hats and a hatbox

Summer Court Hat
Semi-formal Winter Court Hat
Double-tiered Court Hat Box

China, Qing Dynasty, 1644–1911, 19th century
DBC 11159.1

These hats would have been worn by a civil official, whose gilt hat button signified the seventh rank. The winter court hat occupied the lower tier of the box and the conical summer court hat the upper tier. It is unusual for a hat box to survive with both its hats.

Ruyi Scepter made of wood and jade

Ruyi Scepter

China, Qing Dynasty, 1644–1911, 19th century
Wood, jade
DBC 10690.1

Ruyi means “as you wish” and refers to the heart-shaped terminal at the end of the scepter. Scepters like this were given as gifts. It is carved out of hard Zitan wood and inset with three carved jade plaques with intertwined dragons.

Womens hat with batwing-like shape

Woman’s Hat (Liang Patou) with Cross Piece (Bianfang)

China, Qing Dynasty
Silk, gilded silver
DBC 10020.1, 11015.1

Manchu women wore this unusual headdress for non-official occasions. It mimics the “two handful handfuls of hair” style which was considerably more difficult to arrange and maintain.

Rosewood, quartz, and leather necklace

Court Necklace (Chao Zhu) and Box

China, Qing Dynasty, 1644–1911, 19th century
Rosewood, quartz, and leather
DBC 10667.1/2

The court necklace was an essential part of court dress, indicating both rank and season. Based on the Buddhist rosary, the main string comprised 108 small beads divided into groups of 27 by four larger “Buddha Head” beads. Only imperial nobles and high-court officials were permitted to wear them.

Hat and Box

Hat and Box

Korea, 19th century
Woven horsehair, bamboo, silk; wood and brass
DBC 10372.1/2

Korean men wore this type of hat during the Joseon dynasty (1392–1910). Prior to the late 19th century, only men of the noble class were permitted to wear it as it represented their social status. The tall shape protected their topknots. This one is exceptionally finely woven, partly transparent, and in excellent condition having been safely stored in its box.

collection of shoes

Cloud-tipped Shoes
Manchu-style Mid-sole High Platform Shoe

China, 19th century
DBC 11036.1/2,10503.1

Manchu women did not bind their feet. They wore embroidered silk shoes elevated on a platform in the middle of the sole or flat shoes with bushy golden silk fringe.



The Nantucket Historical Association preserves and interprets the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties, in order to promote the island’s significance and foster an appreciation of it among all audiences.

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