National Palace Museum – Great Ming Porcelains 大明天下行

The ceramic they called China. During the Ming Dynasty, many important kilns were owned by or reserved for the emperor, and large quantities of porcelain were exported as diplomatic gifts or for trade from an early date, initially to East Asia and the Islamic world, and then from around the 16th century to Europe. Chinese ceramics have had an enormous influence on other ceramic traditions in these areas.

I. Prelude: Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368):

In 1278, Fuliang Porcelain Bureau was established to oversee the production of imperial porcelains in Jingdezhen Kiln. This created a favorable condition for the development and prosperity of Jingdezhen Wares.

Blue and white decoration first became widely used in Chinese porcelain in the 14th century, after the cobalt pigment for the blue began to be imported from Persia. A style of decoration based on sinuous plant forms spreading across the object was perfected, and most commonly used.

First, large quantity of matured blue-and-white porcelains were manufactured, people use imported cobalt as the paint for the decorations which has the characteristics of tight composition and splendid designs. At the same time, other kinds like egg-shell white, underglaze red wares and high-temperature-fired single color wares were created, making Jingdezhen become the center of the world porcelain industry in the middle ages.

II. Hongwu and Jianwen Period (1368-1402)

During the turbulent times at the end of Yuan Dynasty, Jingdezhen’s authorities directly submit to the Ming’s emperor and thus escaped from the destruction of the wars, and their porcelain manufacturing technique was well preserved. After the founding of the Ming Dynasty, the royal kiln was established on the basis of the Yuan’s Fuliang Porcelain Bureau. Emperor Hongwu also ordered the use of porcelains in all worships, thus advancing the development of the porcelain industry in Jingdezhen. Products made by the royal kiln during the Hongwu period were characterized by blue-and-white, under-glazed red and white-glazed porcelains with big size, heavy weight and compact and layered patterns. Those imperial porcelains were made by workers following the very patterns designed by the court.

Stem cup with underglaze blue decoration of dragons among lotus blossoms 青花穿蓮夔龍紋高足杯, Ming Dynasty Hongwu Reign (1368-1398)

This wine cup from Emperor Hongwu reign exhibits a classic Yuan-style of porcelain in design. The blue and white color is very light but the lines are clear, with many spots of cyan bleeding. The general glaze of Hongwu blue-and-white ware is greyish with few colour pieces.

Emperor Hongwu (b.1328-d.1398) is the father of Emperor Yongle. His eldest son passed away and he passed the throne to his firstborn of the Crown Prince, the Emperor Jianwen (b.1377-d.1402?). Emperor Yongle (b.1360-d.1424) took the throne from his nephew in a coup d’etat in 1402.

III. Yongle and Hongxi period(1403—1425)

Peak time of the exchange between China and the West. During the Yongle period, Great prosperity of the Royal kilns in Jingdezheng resulted from a powerful Empire at that time. They produced sweet white, blue-and-white, red glaze and other distinctive kinds of their time.

Xuande porcelains alongside Yongle

Among them, the sweet white style deeply favored by the Yongle Emperor has sophisticated technique and can be called a unique and exquisite type in that time; the blue-and-white style has distinctive decorations by using the imported cobalt blue-sumali; red-glazed style and other high-temperature-fired single-color wares are masterpieces made by the craftsmen in Yongle period with their bold explorations and trials. Besides, extensive exchange with foreign countries bring them knowledge and examples of metals, ceramics and glass wares from Islamic countries.

The imperial porcelains made in Yongle period also started to have the reign title painted in the product, which was the forerunner of “private customization” called by later generations.

IV. Xuande period (1426-1435)

Xuande’s reign is among the famous peaceful times in China’s history and also witnessed the peak time of the development of the royal kilns in the Ming Dynasty. According to the archaeological discoveries, a large quantities of kiln furnaces were built at this time, which resulted to the sharp increase of the porcelain output. According to the Collected Statutes of the Ming Dynasty, simply in the eighth year under Xuande’s reign, the royal kilns were ordered to produce 443,500 pieces of porcelains.

Xuande’s imperial porcelains were famous for its simply design, jade-like glaze and colorful decorations, but the Emperor Xuande seemed to like the blue-and-white style better, therefore, the blue-and-white porcelains made in this period had the largest output and best quality.

Besides, many new forms and decorations were created and the inscription system for the porcelains gradually became matured and was inherited by later generations.

V. From Zhengtong to Tianshun (1436-1464)

This era witnessed a turbulent time and economic decline of the Ming Dynasty due to the frequent wars and court conflicts. And the emperors also shifted their interests to other fields. The royal kilns therefore stepped down to a stagnation period with shrinking output, which was also called a “blank period.” It is said that the Emperor Jingtai was very fond of Cloisonné and ever ordered to replace all the court’s porcelains to Cloisonné, but until now there is no discovery of the royal products with clear chronological inscriptions. However, the porcelain remains excavated in the site of royal kilns in Jingdezhen during the blank period show elegant forms and sophisticated techniques in the blank period.

VI. Chenghua period (1465-1487)

Dish with incised dragons and clouds decoration in overglaze turquoise enamels on a splashed dark blue ground 灑藍地孔雀綠釉雲龍紋盤, Ming dynasty, Chenghua reign (1465-1487)

Because of the stable political situation and prosperous economy during the Emperor Chenghua’s reign, the porcelain manufacturing started to revive again after the stagnation in the three former reigns. Chenghua imperial porcelains have their unique features among various kinds in the Ming Dynasty. The blue-and-white ceramics in Chenghua period mainly use domestic blue cobalt and therefore have elegant color, which is different from the bright colors in Yongle and Xuande periods and signifies the shift of style of the royal kilns in the Ming Dynasty. In this period, the technique for clashing color was greatly improved and many new patterns and designs were created, for example, mother hen and baby chicken, scholars, butterflies among flowers and grapes on the clashing-color cups, sea and legendary animals on the jar with “Tian” mark. This period boasts of many small-sized vessels, including cups, plates and jar.

VII. Hongzhi and Jiajing period (1488-1521)

Stem bowl 嬌黃綠彩高足碗 and Dish 翠綠黃裡盤, Ming dynasty, Hongzhi reign 1488-1505

During Hongzhi’s period, the royal kilns made several reductions of the output of the porcelains while they started to produce more in Zhengde period, therefore, the porcelains are much richer in variety and quantity than those in the last period. Because the Emperor Zhengde was greatly influenced by the Islamic culture, many Islamic inscription were found in the porcelains at that time, which was a typical characteristics for Zhengde’s porcelain products.

The royal kilns in Jingdezheng during the Hongzhi and Zhengde period not only inherited the characteristics in Chenghua period but also had their own innovations, creating some new styles for Jiajing period.

VIII. Wanli period (1573-1620)

The Emperor Wanli ruled China from 1573 to 1620, towards the end of the Ming Dynasty period, which lasted for more than three centuries until 1644. During Wanli’s reign, porcelain makers increasingly produced pieces for the export market to European countries like the Netherlands, as well as for the thriving domestic market. The Dutch East India Company was responsible for much of the export trade, and pieces fetched high prices at auctions in the Netherlands.

The Wanli period also saw production of extremely fine Wucai (five-colour) pieces, but these were not exported at the time and are rarely seen today except in museum collections. The finest polychrome porcelain of the era, painted in red, green, purple, yellow and black was produced under direct commission from Imperial courtiers and other members of the ruling elite.

The Wucai pieces were often decorated with narrative or allegorical scenes involving everyday Chinese life of the time as well as mythical tales. Painted scenes included landscapes and human activity as well as ornate decoration with animals, fish and flowers.

National Palace Museum
No.221, Sec. 2, Zhishan Rd., Shilin Dist., Taipei City 111001, Taiwan (R.O.C.)
Tel : 886-2-2881-2021

Date Visited : Oct 2018

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