It all started with utilitarian pieces made from red clay. Then the Bronze Age arrived and clay was replaced by bronze. And then the Chinese Renaissance, and they discovered how to put colour on clay and transformed the pieces with fire. To these days, people still referred to porcelain as China.
Green Glazed Porcelains 青釉瓷
Green glazed porcelains are the earliest colour-glazed porcelain in China. Their glazed colour is tender, elegant and pure, just like the variable green in nature. They first appeared in Shang dynasty and developed through each dynasty and reached its epitome in Tang dynasty.
Tang Tri-Coloured Glazed Pottery 唐三彩
Multi-coloured porcelain was invented around 7th century started to take its artistic form in the Tang Dynasty (618-907).
The Tang tri-coloured glazed pottery 唐三彩 is a low-melting glazed pottery. It was made by adding metallic oxides to the colored glaze and calcining the object to create different colors, namely the predominant yellow, brown and green. The chemicals in the glaze change gradually in the firing process, creating a variegated effect with a majestic and elegant artistic attraction.
Tri-coloured glazed pottery was usually used as burial objects. Its loose and brittle base and its low waterproofing properties meant it was not as practical as the blue and white porcelain that had already emerged at the time.
Tri-coloured glazed pottery utensils of the Tang were usually rounded and full in shape in accordance with the aesthetic values of the time. The accurately proportioned human and animal figures have fluid lines, natural expressions and life-like movements. The soldier figures have strong muscles, big staring eyes and wield swords or arrows. The female figures have high hair buns and full sleeves; they stand gracefully erect, looking natural and elegant. The animal figures are mainly of horses and camels.
Fuma’s Tomb 萬州駙馬墓
Fuma 駙馬 or Princess’ Consort is the title given to any son-in-law of the Emperor. The owner of this tomb, Ran Rencai 冉仁才, was given an honorary position of Yongzhou Secretary 永州刺史 in the Tang imperial government. After his death, the tomb was referred by the locals as the Fuma’s tomb, even though his wife was not royal family but not a direct child of any emperor.
It was excavated in 1978 and contained over 90 porcelain pieces of high archaeological value for their artistic forms and excellent quality.
It has a grey body, greenish yellow glaze and shred patterns. The man wore a long dress with narrow sleeves with two hands hollow-fisted in front of the chest. He wore a pair of top boots.
Jingdezhen Kiln 景德鎮窯
Referred to as China’s “porcelain capital,” Jingdezhen has long been known as a place for porcelain production. Jingdezhen has a long history of porcelain production; it began in the 1st century AD at the time of the Later Han Dynasty, and by the time of the Chen dynasty (of the Northern and Southern Dynasties), production was already booming.
The Song Dynasty was a time of utmost popularity for Jingdezhen’s porcelain production. The area’s celadon and white porcelain were exceptional in their artistry and historic value; Jingdezhen had carved out its place in history as a famous site of porcelain production. Furthermore, at this time production techniques for shadow green glaze 影青 also being developed, which would have a tremendous impact on future generations.
During the Yuan dynasty, porcelain production techniques advanced even further, and the first half of the 14th century AD saw the birth of blue and white porcelain in the kilns of Jingdezhen. Blue and white porcelain is a form of decorated pottery on which a cobalt painting is applied underneath a white porcelain glaze, followed by a layer of transparent glaze, and is fired at a high temperature.
Longquan Kiln 龍泉窯
The Longquan Kiln 龍泉窯 is one of the six famous kiln clusters of the Song Dynasty (960-1279). It was named so because the famous celadon wares are produced in the Longquan City of Zhejiang Province. The Longquan celadon first appeared during the Three Kingdoms (220-280) and Jin Dynasty (265-420), and achieved its zenith in the middle and later period of Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279). Its craftsmanship has aggregated the achievements of traditional Chinese porcelain making. Its elegant styles and glazing color make it a paradigm of the Song ceramic wares.
The most striking feature of the Longquan celadon is its greenish or grayish blue glaze, which resembles the quality of jade. The body of Longquan celadon is rough and heavy, and the wall is relatively thick. The glaze is relatively thin, in a range of colors, such as plum green, pink blue, pea green, and crab-shell blue. Generations of Longquan celadon makers spared no effort to make the glaze as perfect as jade.
Ancient Kilns in Sichuan
From the Sui, Tang and Five Dynasties to the Southern Song Dynasty, the porcelain industry in Chengdu, Sichuan has been quite developed. Chengdu kilns, Pengxian kilns, Liulichang kilns, and Qiong kilns were all of considerable scales, each with its own characteristics. They have created many precious porcelain products that have been preserved for the appreciation by future generations.
Yutang Kiln 玉堂窯 is an ancient kiln site newly discovered in Chengdu in recent years. It is located in Yutang Town, Dujiangyan City, Sichuan, hence its name. The Yutang Kiln produced its first celadons in the Tang Dynasty and ceased in the Song Dynasty.
It has a history of more than 600 years spanning across the Tang, the Five Dynasties, the Northern Song and the Southern Song dynasties.
Cifeng Kiln 磁峰窯 is located in Pengzhou City which was known in ancient time Pengxian and is famous for producing faux white porcelain that mimic the royal porcelains from Ding Kiln. It was discovered in 1976 and was active during the Song dynasty. The white porcelain from Cifeng Kiln is characterised by its cream white glaze and is smooth and neat.
This particular kiln in Qionglai County was a private kiln that made practical objects for the populace. Qiong Kiln 邛窯 was famous for producing a oil-saving lamp in Tang Dynasty that was the first in the world to use the density of water and oil to use less oil for the lamp. And from then we have the idiom 不是省油的燈 (not an oil saving lamp) to describe someone with hidden talents. And here you see small porcelain toys made with love for the children.
Guangyuan, Sichuan was the hometown of the only female emperor of China, Wu Zetian. Guangyuan Kiln 廣元窯 was discovered in 1953 and produced special celadons that are black or dark blue in colour. The kilns were active during the Tang and Song dynasties and were one of the three main styles for Sichuan.
As the craft advanced, porcelain reached to higher artistic achievements in later dynasties. We explore those in the next post.
Sichuan Provincial Museum 四川博物院
251 Huan Hua Nan Lu, Chengdu, Sichuan, China
Date Visited : Aug 2018
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