Proto-ceramics, Yuan Tao Qi 原陶器
Pottery is one of the most ancient crafts mastered by human beings. In China, they believe it was introduced by legendary rulers Shan Nun (Divine Farmer) and The Yellow Emperor Huan Di. Modern archeological researches confirm that the art of clay work - "tao-qi" (陶器 in Chinese) - had already developed to quite high standards in the middle reaches of river Huang He in the Late Stone Age (VIII century BC).
Basic items for mundane and ritual use were: cups ("bo" - 缽), bowls ("pen" - 盆), chalices ("van" -碗), glasses ("bei" - 杯), plates ("pan" - 盤), stemmed wineglasses ("dou" - 豆), cauldrons ("fu" - 釜), tripods ("ding" - 鼎), pots ("guan" - 罐) and jars ("hu" - 壺).
Photo: a vessel of Neolithic culture Yanshao (V-II Thd B.C.E.)
Preparation of raw clay started from removing impurities and litter: clay would be put in water and stirred up, the heavy part of clay sinking down, and the litter floating up. The cleaner it was made, the better was the quality of future ceramic mass. In order to decrease clay shrinkage losses while drying, and to prevent vessels cracking while baking, they would add quartz sand into the mix, as well as finely ground shells of pearl oyster, talc, and chamotte. Then, future pottery was shaped by hand without using a jigger: out of clay strips which were rolled into circles in accordance with the width of the future item, building one upon another (strip ceramics). The jigger was also used in the end of IV - beginning of III Thd BCE (which is almost 1000 years earlier than in the Mediterranean area), but complicated designs were still made by hand. The walls of pots were then polished by bamboo brushes, bone, wooden and ceramic polishers until the peculiar gloss appeared on the surface. After polishing, the pots were put into liquid clay solution, dried and then covered with engobe (this is a predecessor of glaze - a coloured decorative clay coating). Next, the pots were painted with geometrical or floral ornaments, images of plants, animals and humans. Monochrome ceramics could also be decorated with engravings (by a sharp or obtuse tool), or prints (pressed images of plaits, ropes, plant kernels, leaves, spiked grains), or modelled designs (raised ribbons and figures).
Photo: Yu-tao (釉陶, glazed ceramics), II Thd BCE.
Nowadays, porcelain items of Shang-In epoque (II Thd BCE) are called Yuanshi-cy, or "primitive porcelain", "protoporcelain" by art historians. These items (baked under temperatures 1050 - 1150 °C) were made in workshops of the lower and middle reaches of river Huang He (in the North of Hénán province), in the lower and middle reaches of Cháng Jiāng (in modern times, Huángshān mountain areas in province Ānhuī, Jiāngsū in the area of lakes Taihu and Zhèjiāng, in Hángzhōu district and Tyantaichan mountains).
Photo: glazed ceramics Yuanshi qinqyi ( 原始瓷), I Thd BCE.
During the long history of Chinese pottery, technologies were perfected a lot of times, though the essence remained the same. Clay is digged out of the ground, dried and crushed, washed and matured, mixed with different components, formed and decorated with painting, engraving or application, glazed and baked.
Ceramics TAO 陶 and porcelain Ci 瓷
Both porcelain and ceramics contain caolinite stone (Chinese "gaolintu" -高嶺土). This substance was formed from aluminium and siliceous ettle during geological processes, its chemical formula is Al2-O2-Sio2-2H2O). The term came from toponym "Gaolin" (高陵, "high hills") - the name of a hill ridge on the border of Hénán and Hébĕi provinces. In Chinese language, all ceramic sorts containing kaolinite (including porcelain) are called Ci 瓷. Nevertheless, in terms of contents of ceramic mass and pecularities of technology Ci can divide into many different kinds.
Illustration: High mountain hills, Gaolin. Porcelain stone production in Gaolin mountains.
Depending on the structure, ceramics can be fine (finely grained or vitreous) and coarse (coarsely grained). Fine ceramics are: porcelain, semi-porcelain (faience), maiolica and stone ceramics. Porcelain items have smooth, translucent yet very firm texture, they are hardly scratched with a knife, don't absorb water, and make a clear sound when tapped. Semi-porcelain, maiolica and stone ceramics have porous non-transparent texture, absorb water (absorption between 9 - 15%), and their surface can be easily scratched with sharp tools. In porcelain production, raw components are supposed to be thoroughy cleaned - that is why porcelain is white. Other ceramics sorts can be greenish, cream-coloured or greyish.
Porcelain can be firm or soft. Firm porcelain contains 47 - 66% kaolin, 25% quartz, and 25% feldspar. Soft porcelain consists of 25-40% kaolin, 45% quartz, and 30% feldspar. As far as ceramics is concerned, it may contain the abovementioned components in various proportions, as well as chalk, flux and other admixtures. Baking temperature for ceramics varies from 1050°C to 1250°C, and for porcelain it should be not less than 1300°C, in order to start transformation of the molecular structure of the ceramic mass, in the course of which it becomes vitreous and entirely impervious to water. Firm porcelain is the most infusible, it requires baking temperatures from 1400 °C to 1460 °C.
Photo: Porcelain Jingdezhen
There are huge deposits of kaolinite rocks in the South-East and South of China. They form layers, and their properties substantially differ depending on the depth and the particular place. Throughout the course of history numerous pottery centers (organized around big baking furnaces) came to existance, flourished and went down in these lands. Each of them had its own distinctive style, a set of techologies and a labour organization scheme.
Kiln - Yao 窑
At the earliest stages of their development, furnaces were vertical constructions of 1-3 m in height and 2-3 m in diameter at the base. The baking chamber was right above the firebox. Rectangular openings in the upper part channeled smoke and gases, therefore a more steady temperature regime could be supported in the baking chamber.
During the era of Fighting Kingdoms (V-III centuries BC) furnaces appeared in which the baking chamber was not placed immediately above the firebox, but on the side of the furnace. They had a slightly elongated shape, and therefor were called Mantou (馒头窑, "fritter bun"): in average about 2.7 m in length, 4.2 m in width and about 5 m in height. Warm air from the furnace passed through a sloping duct and its three branches, and entered the baking chamber through small rectangular holes. Such a design allowed to achieve a steady temperature regime. Items to be baked were placed into the furnace in crucibles stacked in several rows. Before the baking the boot opening was bricked up and plastered with clay. The famous porcelains Ding Yao, Chun-Yao, Ju-Yao were baked in Mantou kilns. In some places, similar facilities have been used for baking up to the present days.
Photo: Ancient kiln Mantou-Yao
In the era of the Five dynasties, Dancin (蛋形) kiln appeared in Jiangxi province. It had oval shape and was built as an ascending arched tunnel (sloping up at about 3°), with a firebox placed in a hollow. Holes for air ventilation were located in the tunnel arch which was shaped like the top half of a giant pitcher buried in the ground. The draft was created by a high chimney. The volume of the inner space was approximately 150-200 cubic meters. The kiln was fuelled with pine wood. The most famous Dancin kilns preserved up to our times can be found in district Jingdezhen.
Picture: Dancin kiln
During the Song dynasty, Lun Yao (the Dragon kiln) design was created. That was a large brick tunnel (15 meters in length, 2-3 in width and 2 in height), which was built on a hill. Its peculiar design feature was that it didn't have a chimney. The draft was created due to the difference in heights: the angle of the hill slope was 23°. Fire was made with a huge amount of wood at the bottom (in the Dragon's Head). Hot air went up through the arched tunnel to the outlet on its top (the Tail of the Dragon). Windows for filling the furnace with items to be baked were set up on sides of the tunnel, as well as some more additional holes for keeping the draft. Temperature might reach up to 1400°C in such a furnace. There were two options for baking: the open method, and the closed method. In the first case, the surface of baked objects could melt in fire in the most unpredictable way, which caused colour variations and a big percentage of rejection. To protect the baked items, they were placed in a special fire-proof ceramic container (the closed muffle way).
Illustration: Dragon kiln
To reach the temperature required for baking, it was necessary to make a very big fire. This meant that a lot of firewood was needed, as well as a lot of coal, and many people supporting and controlling its temperature, which should be constant and stay in the optimal range. A large kiln gains heat over a long period of time and cools down in a few days. Therefore baking was a serious event. It required preparations for several weeks, and gathered produce of many potters living around.
Photo: Lun-Yao in action
Pottery is the art of fire. The final quality of ceramics depends on the initial material, mastery of modelling, and baking in a kiln. What a master can do - he does before the baking, and then the piece either passes the fire test, or goes to the scrap heap. A piece always deforms ("settles down") and changes its shape and color under high temperature. Uneven heating, hidden defects, or excessive temperature always lead to a fatal result.
Photo: a result of baking failure
One can always see long fences and even small buildings made of crocks around ancient large kilns. These are broken pottery fragments which never became bowls, vases or pots.
Photo: street in Jingdezhen
A modern electric kiln is much more efficient than Lun Yao, where the temperature is so hard to control. However, many well-known masters bake their creations in ancient Dragon kilns despite all the risk - following the traditions of their ancestors. The reason why this happens is because mastery and family secret skills are mostly passed down the family line - along with the old clay stock - from fathers to children.
Glazed porcelain Yu-Tzu 釉瓷
Despite the fact that porcelain is practically impervious to water and gas, a porcelain preparation - as well as a ceramic one - is usually covered with transparent glaze. Essentially, Yu-tze (glazed porcelain) technology incudes several repeated cycles of glazing the piece and baking it afterwards. The average number of layers usually does not exceed 4 or 5, maximum number being 10, and then the piece is sent to the final baking. Temperature of preliminary baking was supposed to be around 800°C, and baking temperature for glaze varied in the range of 1200-1300°C.
Glazed ceramics has a wide range of colors and shades. The most amazing colours are caused by transition metal ions which absorb light of different wavelengths in accordance with their concentration and oxidation state. Iron ions enter into a redox reaction during the baking, which results in a range of colours from yellow and green to brown and black. Manganese ions are the cause for purple and brown palette, chrome - for shades from pink to green, cobalt - for blue and dark blue, copper - for green and blue. To apply these substances, it is necessary to know their properties well, since the energy levels of their outer electrons heavily depend on the composition of glaze. For example, copper gives a blue color in alkaline glaze and a green shade in combination with lead.
Glaze can be applied both on a ceramic billet and on porcelain. The more layers, the stronger is the effect of light dispersion and translucent depth. However, numerous layers of glaze make the walls thicker, and the whole piece becomes too massive and heavy. Therefore, as the technology was developing towards thinner walls and better quality glaze, ceramics was becoming more and more elegant.
Photo: a porcelain vessel from Jun Yao kilns, Song dynasty
Glazed porcelain CHING-TZU 青瓷
Porcelain Ching-Tzu (青瓷, glazed porcelain) - which is nowadays famous by its European name of "celadon" - reached its golden age in the time of Song dynasty. Iron oxide which was contained in the transparent glaze contributed gentle shades of green to the pottery, while multiple coating made the surface shine as if wet. Due to the fact that speeds of cooling down of porcelain and glaze were different, there appeared tiny cracks on the surface, poetically called "wing of Cicada". Wonderful creations of craftsmen of the Middle Kingdom decorated Palace feasts and were sent as gifts to foreign embassadors.
The largest Ching-Tzu production centers were Jun Yao (钧窑), Zhu Yao (汝窑) , Guan Yao (官窑), Ge Yao (哥窑), Dean Yao (定窑). They had hundreds of workers: people mining clay, cleaning litter, breaking clay and drying it, preparing molding mass and glaze, modelling pottery on a jigger, or by hand according to the templates, people decorating and glazing the items with an amazing variety of visual effects, and finally, masters of baking.
Picture: preparing a ceramic test
Porcelain Chai 柴.
In the era of the Five Dynasties (907-960), Imperial porcelain was produced in the workshops of district Zheng-Zhou (modern name) in Henan province (河南郑州). According to the "Historical Notes" of Min Dynasty by historian Cao Zhao, later Zheng-Zhou workshops were rejected after several attempts to meet highest demands of Emperor Zhou Setsun (周世宗 - an adopted son of the last ruler of the Five Dynasties Guo Wei, and his name before the adoption was Chai Rong, 柴荣). The monarch's attention turned to some other producers in the South of Sinjan. When Chai Rong was asked by masters, what should be Imperial porcelain, he said: "As the sky after the rain" (雨过天晴).
Picture: Emperor Chai Rong
This historical turn resulted in creating wonderful ceramics of amazing colours and noble shapes. According to contemporaries "a piece of Chai porcelain is more precious than a bullion of gold". However none of such pieces survived to be appreciated by future generations. After death of Zhou Setsun, general Zhao Quan Ying usurped the throne and proclaimed himself the first Emperor of a new dynasty Song that finally united China. Descendants of Zhao Quan Ying avoided any mention of the overthrown house Chai and all related issues. As for the Palace utensils, they preferred ceramics produced by furnaces of Yue-Zhou and Ding-Zhou; until the eighth successor to the throne Hui Zong - the Emperor with the soul of a poet and an artist - recalled celestial-blue porcelain Chai back to life.
Picture: Emperor Hui Zong
Emperor Hui Zong (瑞鶴) eventually gave complete control over state affairs to unscrupulous officials and dedicated all 25 years of his reign to the arts of painting, calligraphy and literature.
Photo: a fragment of a scroll "Writers' gathering" by Hui Zong (文会图, painting on silk), Taipei national Museum collection.
He also left behind his famous "Tea Notes" (大觀茶論, Da Guan Cha Lun), as well as some beautiful painted scrolls ("Lotus and Golden Pheasants", "Autumn Pond", etc.). He was the greatest master of his time - inspired and well-educated, with an impeccable aesthetic sense and a deep understanding of Taoist philosophy. And blue porcelain from Zhu Yao kilns was one of material manifestations of his concept of "celestial purity".
Photo: "Cranes over the Palace" painting on silk, by Emperor Hui Zong, Liaoning Museum collection.
Zhu Yao (汝窑)
Under the collective name of Zhu Yao (汝窑), there were several pottery centers scattered in district Zhu-Zhou (汝州) near the capital of Kaifeng (at present district Baofeng (宝丰), Henan province) and producing glazed porcelain Ching-Tzu which inherited properties of porcelain Chai (柴), in the period from the reign of the Five Dynasties (907 – 960) to the late Qin (1840-1911).
Glazed porcelain Zhu had amazingly delicate colours and elegant forms. "Blue like the sky, smooth as the precious jade, patterned as finely as a cicada's wing, shining with the light of the morning star" – that is how poets described it.
Photo: a cup from Zhu Yao kilns, Song dynasty
Alas, neglecting state affairs ended up in a tragedy: Jurjan troops took the capital Kaifeng in 1127.The Emperor with his family and 14000 former subjects were sent into exile to Northern Manchuria, where he died after 8 years in captivity. Skillful masters who made wonderful things for the Palace, sunk into oblivion along with their pottery kilns and that epoque. Later in history, many attempts were made to restore them, but time always brings about its own corrections into human actions: no matter how good various replications of porcelain Zhu were - nobody ever succeeded in reaching its transcendental level.
Photo: a bowl from Zhu Yao kilns, Song Dynasty.
Today, there are about 70 items that once were shining in the light of Imperial rooms – 21 in Taipei Palace, 17 in Beijing, as well as a few items in Shanghai museums, in the English Foundation of Chinese art, and in private collections. Glazed Tien-Lan (天蓝, sky-blue), Feng-Qing (粉青, pale blue), and Yue Bai (月白, moonlight white) illustrate Zen philosophy of clear mind. Looking into the delicate translucent texture of smooth glaze, the gentle curves of forms and the subtle pattern of cracks, a person contemplating these wonderful objects steeps in a state of peace and harmony.
...The taste of tea is like the taste of life itself – it changes from cup to cup. With each sip, future passes through us, through the transient present - in order to mingle with our past and become a part of history. And only the tiny darkened cracks absorbing the breath of time over and over again keep the reflection of bygone tea parties and remind of the past that was once alive and real. When we are reading their fancy mysterious patterns - we are looking into the bottomless well of time as we are catching our ephemeral reflection...
Wang Jian Rong, Director of the Chinese National Tea Museum in Hangzhou
In 1952, Zhu kilns were called back to life and restored literally from ruins - in the frame of national program "Restoration of cultural heritage". The first batch of hand-made ceramics covered with light green glaze doului-yu (豆绿釉) was produced in 1958 after numerous studies and experiments. In August 1983, the sky blue tanlan-yu (天蓝釉) porcelain Zhu Yao was recognized by experts not only just as good, but even superior to that of the ancient Song dynasty. From this moment Zhu-Yao modern products became a a source of special glory of Henan potters.
Guan Yao, 官窑.
Kiln Guan Yao near Kaifeng was destroyed during the Mongol invasion and then eventually buried in ruins after a flood in XVII century. It was mentioned in historical references，and a few artefacts survived in museums till the present time. A peculiar characteristic of Guan Yao ceramics was a thin rim on the neck poetically called "a brown mouth". The rim might be of different shades from light brown to brick red, and it was formed due to oxidation of iron contained in the glaze while baking. Guan Yao pottery was covered with glaze of pale blue, light green, purple and pinkish colours. In appearance it is similar to Zhu Yao ceramics due to the use of the same clay, glaze and baking techniques.
Photo: a bowl from kiln Guan Yao,Gugun Museum of Beijing collection.
Jun Yao, 钧窑.
Kilns Jun Yao in district Jun-Zhou in Henan province were making excellent ceramics covered with multiple layers of glaze – pink, carmine red, lilac, purple, sky blue, azure, purple and bright green. Silica, aluminium, iron, phosphorus and copper particles contained in glaze manifested colour in different ways depending on the proportion and baking temperature. The technology was very complex, with temperature sometimes reaching up to 1380°C, and as a result almost 70% of the batch could easily go to waste. Nowadays Jun Yao ceramics is considered the most valuable and rare among the collectors.
Photo: a bowl from Jun Yao kilns
Dean Yao, 定窑.
Thin white porcelain Ding Yao (from kilns in district Baoding of Hebei province, 河北省保定市) were distinguished by simplicity and elegance of form. They were decorated with engravings: images of sea waves, fish and animals, playing children and flowers. Sometimes a golden or silvery rim was also used.
Photo: a cup from Ding Yao kilns,collection of National Palace Gugun Museum in Beijing
Kilns Longquan, 龍泉.
District Longquan is a famous historical and cultural center located at the junction of Zhejiang, Jiangxi and Fujian provinces. The established in X century network of local workshops and kilns was given a collective name Longquan (龍泉,Dragon spring). During the Western Jin Dynasty (265-316), two brothers from Zhang (章) family founded the first porcelain production facility. Their kilns eventually received names Ge-Yao, (哥窑, Kiln of the Elder Brother) and Di Yao (弟窑, Kiln of the Younger Brother).
In the Song reign, kilns Ge-Yao produced mostly white and light green ceramics covered with opaque smoky-blue glaze with large dark lines patterns. They also had a "brown mouth" similar to porcelain Guan Yao.
Di Yao ceramics had typical blue, emerald, celadon colours and the famous "green plum" (meizi-qing, 梅子青). They had thin walls and delicate shapes. New and new workshops were proliferating around the kilns. In XIII-XV centuries, glazed ceramics from Longquan spread to South-East Asia and Middle East, and reached Europe where it got its name "celadon". Approximately 1300 extant porcelain items are owned by world's top museums and private collections.
Photo: a cup from Ge-Yao kilns, Gugun Palace Museum, Beijing
The specificity of Longquan ceramics was that each piece was made by the same master at all production stages. Thus, every item adopted a piece of a human soul, and reflected the technical level and the unique style of its creator. The heyday of Longquan porcelain came during the reign of the Southern Song Dynasty. However over the last three hundred years the technology has been lost. After the establishment of People's Republic of China in 1949, work on the study and restoration of the ancient technology began, and it was fully restored by 2000.
In this video filmed during one of our trips to Zhejiang, you will learn about the state of things at the Longquan porcelain factory today.
Glazed porcelain Hay-Tsy 黑瓷
Black porcelain Hazy - also called Hay Yu (黑釉, black glaze), Uni Jian (乌泥建, black Jian clay) or Zi Jian (紫建 Jian purple) - owes its huge popularity to tea tournaments dou-cha, which were widely practised during the Song reign, and the custom of whipping tea foam.In his famous "Da Gua Cha Lun" ("Essay on tea, written in the years of governance under the motto Da Guan") Emperor Hui Zong mentioned "...Especially valuable black bowl with a pattern of streaks".
Photo: Bowl Daimao Ban (Turtle shell) from Jizhou kilns, Song Dynasty
Dark porcelain was produced by kilns Jiang Yao (建窑) and Jizhou-Yao (吉州窑). Jiang Yao kilns were in districts Shuǐ Zi Zheng (水吉镇), Jiang-Yang Qiu (建阳区), in county Nanping in Fujian province, to the South-East of Wuyishan mountains. Jizhou-Yao were located in county Jizhou (in the present time, urban county Ji'an, 吉安市), in the territory of the modern Jiangxi province. Founded in the Tang reign, these kilns reached the highest peak during Song Dynasty, and then gradually came to a complete decline. Masters manifested true miracles of ingenuity while experimenting with various compositions of glazes, methods of coating, and baking temperatures. Amazing patterns appear on the background of black, purple, dark gray, reddish-brown glazes: Tuhao Ban (兔毫斑, "rabbit fur"), Jegu Ban (鹧鸪斑, "partridge feathers"), Cesin Bin Yu (结晶冰釉, "ice crystals"), Jima Hua Yu (芝麻花釉, "sesame flowers"), Sunle Wen (龟裂纹釉, "craquelure"), Daimao Ban (玳瑁斑, "turtle shell") and others.
Photo: a Gunhai bowl, Song dynasty
The main colouring components of glaze Gunhai Yu (纯黑釉, "black glaze"; also known as Ganga,绀黑, "dark purple") were iron oxide and manganese oxide (1%). Multiple layers of glaze with frozen tiny bubbles created the effect of a humid, cloudy surface.
The famous technique Tuhao Bian (兔毫斑, "rabbit fur") was based on the phenomenon that microparticles of iron oxides contained in the glaze melted at temperatures above 1300°C and dripped down forming finest silver, bronze or golden streaks. Numerous layers of coating overlayed one another, caked together and formed grooves on the surface, which looked and felt like delicate rabbit fur. In the course of this process, the reddish-brown rim on the neck of the bowl would always get exposed, so sometimes the neck would be covered with gold or silver foil.
Photo: a Tuhao Bian bowl (兔毫斑, "rabbit fur"), 1185
Technique Jegu Ban ("partridge feathers") along with iron oxide used oil as an additive to the glaze. In the process of heating, there appeared little bubbles inside the glaze, which then burst leaving "feathers" patterns.
Photo: A Jegu Ban bowl (鹧鸪斑, "partridge feathers"), Song dynasty
Yaobang Tianmu bowls (曜变天目, "radiant eyes of Heaven") were particularly appreciated in Japan, under the name Temmoku. The three extant bowls were given the status of National heritage in this country. The distinguishing feature of this technique is the presence of some light spots on the dark glaze which are shining and iridescent in accordance with the angle of view.
Photo: a Temmoku bowl (天目, Tien Mu, "the eyes of Heaven")
Ceramic bowls were often decorated with appliqué patterns. To do this, a bowl was covered with a layer of dark glaze and baked. Then, figures of dragons and phoenixes, auspicious hieroglyphs, etc.were cut out of paper and glued to the inner surface of the bowl. After that, a layer of contrasting glaze was applied, and the bowl was baked once again. The paper burned in the fire while the pattern remained.
Photo: a "partridge feather" bowl with a phoenixes pattern inside.
Equally impressive was a similar technique when a tree leaf was placed in the bottom of a bowl, and then a layer of glaze was applied on top of it. The leaf was later burned in the kiln, and its ashes caked together with the glaze leaving a clear imprint of all its tiny veins on the surface. Quite often that would be a leaf of the sacred Boddhi tree (Ficus religiosa) - under which Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment.
Photo: a Mu E Tienmu cup (木叶天目, "tree leaf") from Jiang Yao kilns
Porcelain Jingdezhen, 景德鎮
During the reign of Zinda (1004 – 1007), Emperor Zhen Zong issued an order concerning kilns of Cannan Zheng (昌南镇, in the present time Jingdezhen, 景德鎮, a city in Jiangxi province). The masters of Cannan Zheng were instructed to produce porcelain for the Imperial court and mark each item with a note: "This was produced during the reign of Zinda" (景德年制). Since then, Cannan Zheng ceramics has been known as Jingdezhen porcelain (景德鎮).
Picture: a typical scene of the life of a state-owned pottery in Cannan Zheng
State-owned potteries initially made white porcelain - "white as snow, thin as paper" - with blue patterns which were compared with "forever young blue flower" by poets. Underglaze ornament was made with a paint containing cobalt oxide which turned various shades of blue under high temperatures. Even though eventually the colour palette of paintings significantly expanded, the white-blue style forever remained the hallmark of Jingdezhen porcelain.
Photo: a cup from Jingdezhen kilns, Qing dynasty, Gugun Palace National Museum collection, Beijing.
In the Yuan era, Jingdezhen ceramic items found favor at the court. More and more new kilns were built in the town, techniques were improving, and potters' mastery was perfecting. During the Ming reign, cups, vases and plates produced by those kilns spread widely beyond the borders of the Celestial Kingdom and became a symbol of China (in English, both "porcelain" and "China" sound the same), as well as pieces for aristocratic collections all over Europe and Asia. Both the famous English blue-and-white porcelain and Russian Gzhel began as replicas of Jingdezhen, and eventually formulated their own independent handicraft traditions.
Photo: Linglong porcelain
Lace porcelain Linglong (玲珑瓷), or Mithun (米通, "rice grains") appeared in the kilns of Jingdezhen during the period of "governance under motto Yongle ("Eternal happiness"). Airy light Linglong ceramics gives the impression of exceptional fragility and weightlessness. To achieve this effect, a thin-walled workpiece should be artfully decorated by cutting tiny open holes in the raw ceramic mass, which is then painted, covered with transparent glaze, and baked. The glaze fills the holes and transforms into finest transparent glass. Furthermore, in order to intensify the effect of lace some holes are left open in the places where it does not discount the item's functionality.
We visited Jingdezhen in June 2014, and made a short video about the porcelain production.