The Neolithic Age
In China, earthenware 7000-10000 years old from the Neolithic age has been discovered in Henan, Hebei, Jiangxi, Zhejiang and Guangdong Provinces as well as in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region. For example, earthenware shards estimated to be 9700-10500 years old have been excavated at Nanzhuangtou, Xushui, Hebei Province. Shards estimated to be 7600-10000 years old have been found at Xianrendong. Wannian, Jiangxi Province, and shards of approximately 7600-9000 years old have been discovered at Guilin in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region. Restorable pieces from 6000 B.C.-5200 B.C. have been unearthed from sites in Cishan, Wuan, Hebei Province and Peiligang, Xilizheng, Henan Province.
After this, individual styles of earthenware developed in roughly three areas: the region along the middle and upper Yellow River, the region along the lower part of the Yellow River, and the region in Jiannan, which lies in the south of Changjiang. Remains of kilns used for firing pottery have been discovered in these regions.
In the area along the middle and upper Yellow River, the Laoguantai culture (Shaanxi Province) was established in 4500 B.C., and gray ware has been unearthed from the Beishouling ruins. The Yangshao culture flourished later, settled at Banpo from around 4000 B.C. and at Miaodigou from around 3300 B.C. Around this time, painted earthenware with patterns painted in black on the clay surface began to appear. Around 3300 B.C. the ware became more colorful with the addition of red pigment. Painted earthenware was also fired in the western provinces of Gansu and Qinghai, products of what is known as Gansu Yangshao or Majiayao culture. Later, the Banshan culture (ca. 2600 B.C.-) and Machang culture (ca. 2200 B.C.-) evolved, and in Gansu Province the culture of painted earthenware continued for a long period of time, through the Qijia and Xindian cultures up until the Warring States period.
Along the lower part of the Yellow River, from Shandong Province to Jiangsu Province, the Dawenkou culture (4500 B.C.-2400 B.C.) developed. During the early Dawenkou period mainly red ware was produced, shifting to painted earthenware in the middle of the period. During the later Dawenkou culture, gray ware, black ware, and white ware were produced using potter’s wheels and kilns capable of reduction firing. The succeeding Longshan culture (2400 B.C.-2000 B.C.) is known for skillfully crafted black ware with walls as thin as egg shells.
From around 5000 B.C. the Hemudu culture developed in Zhejiang Province, and from northern Zhejiang to Jiangsu Province the Majiabin culture (3600 B.C.-2700 B.C.) chiefly produced red ware and gray ware, and the Liangzhu culture (ca. 2750 B.C.-1890 B.C.) produced black ware. From Sichuan Province to Hubei Province, influenced by the Hemudu culture, red ware was produced in the Daxi culture and black ware was produced in the Qujialing culture (Hubei Province – Henan Province).
The Xia – Shang – Zhou – Qin – Han Dynasties
During the Shang dynasty, which is believed to have begun around 1600 B.C., high quality bronze ware was produced, and there are also examples of white pottery modeled on bronze vessels. The technique of glost firing was developed, and ash glazed ware based on gray-ware forms was fired. This ware is also known as ‘proto porcelain.’ From the end of the Spring and Autumn period (772 B.C.-481 B.C.) until the Warring States period (403 B.C.-221 B.C.), vitrified pottery with impressed decoration was produced, and there are also many examples of ash-glazed ware patterned after bronze vessels.
The elaborate burial customs, as seen in the figures of troops and horses buried in the tomb of Emperor Qin Shihuangdi, began in the Warring States period and increased in popularity from the Qin dynasty (259 B.C.-210 B.C.) through the Western and Eastern Han dynasty (202 B.C.-8 A.D./25 A.D.-220 A.D.). Large amounts of gray ware and colored gray ware for mortuary purposes were fired during this period. In addition to the high-fired ash-glazed pottery, low-fired (800-900 degrees) lead-glazed pottery was also developed. Lead-glazed ware, also used as mortuary vessels, includes green-glazed ware, which uses copper as a colorant and brown-glazed ware, which uses iron. Green-glazed ware was made in a variety of forms, such as towered pavilions, dogs, wells, and jars.
In the Eastern Han dynasty celadon of substantial quality appeared, and kilns where celadon was fired have been discovered at Shangyu, Ningbo, and Yongjia in Northern Zhejiang Province. There are examples of jars with four handles and straight mouth rims, representing the beginning of Yue ware celadon.
The Three Kingdoms, Western and Eastern Jin, and Southern and Northern Dynasties
From the Three Kingdoms period through the Western Jin dynasty, Yue celadon developed its own individual forms. Examples include burial jars with pavilions attached to the top and human and animal figures applied, or ewers with dish-shaped mouths, handles and spouts in the shape of chicken or sheep heads. Funerary urns developed from the jars with four small jars attached, produced in the Eastern Han dynasty, and were made in between the second half of the third century and the fourth century. The ewers with chicken spouts were first made in the Eastern Jin period in the fourth century. We also see many vessels in animal forms including sheep, lions, dogs, chicken and frogs. A celadon vase with iron painted decoration has been excavated from a tomb of the Three Kingdoms period in Yuhuatai, Nanjing, Jiangsu Province. Wares with iron spotted decoration and black-glazed ewers with chicken spouts were produced in the Eastern Jin dynasty. In the Southern dynasties, influenced by Buddhist art, lotus petal designs became popular. The early Yue ware forms of the Southern dynasties, such as the jars with dish-shaped mouths, can be seen through the Sui and into the Tang dynasty.
At the same time, northern China was entering the Sixteen Kingdoms period. White porcelain, made from white clay, glazed with clear glaze and fired to a high temperature, was produced during the Northern Qi dynasty (550-577). Low-fired lead-glazed ware was also produced, and pieces with green glaze poured over yellow glaze have been excavated from a Northern Qi tomb. This technique is believed to have later developed into the Tang sancai or three-color-glazed ware. The pieces from this period reveal influence of west Asian culture, such as patterns of grapes, palmetto, and connecting ring pattern. This trend continued through the Sui dynasty (581-618). White porcelain was fired at the Gongxian kilns in Henan Province and the Xing kilns in Lincheng and Neiqiu counties in Hebei Province.
The Tang Dynasty
Chinese culture in the Tang dynasty (618-986) began to contain more multicultural elements, and thus new forms appeared. The Yue kilns of the 7th century apparently continued to produce works with the forms and glazes of Old Yue ware, such as vases with dish-shaped mouths. These wares were fired not only at the Yue kilns of northern Zhejiang Province, but also in the south of Zhejiang Province through Fujian Province and Jiangxi Province. In northern China, production of wares such as Yaozhou black ware, white glazed ware and Xing white porcelain increased. In the late Tang dynasty, the Ding kilns in Quyang, Hebei Province fired white porcelain. Ware coated with white slip and then covered with clear glaze was produced at the Hebi, Mixian, and Dengfeng kilns in Henan Province, and also spread to other kilns in Henan, Hebei, Shandong, Anhui, Shanxi and Shaanxi Provinces. At these kilns during the Five Dynasties, white-glazed ware decorated with green pigment was developed, as well as a type of ware decorated with underglaze iron. The sgraffito decorative technique was also used on ware made from white clay, a method which continued to develop into the Northern Song dynasty.
Colored yong figures as mortuary objects continued to be produced in large quantities, many of which with fine artistic forms. Sancai or three-color decoration was popular among lead-glazed wares. Most Tang three-color decoration wares were made as mortuary vessels. Such pieces have been discovered at the Xingzhou kilns (Neiqiu, Hebei Province), Yaozhou kilns (Tongchuan, Shaanxi Province), and the Gongxian kilns (Gongxian, Henan Province). The culture of the imperial court, which flourished from the early Tang dynasty until its peak period, went into decline after the rebellions (755-763) of An Lushan and Shi Siming. The Yue kilns began to develop a new type of celadon, different from Old Yue ware. From the second half of the 8th century through the second half of the 9th century, bowls with a bi-shaped foot were produced there. This style can also be seen at other kilns such as Xingzhou.
In the Chajing (ca. 761), Lu Yu discusses about Yue ware (Cixi, Zhejiang Province), Dingzhou ware (Yaozhou yao, Shaanxi Province), Wuzhou ware (Jinhua, Zhejiang Province), Yuezhou ware (Xiangyin, Hunan Province), Shouzhou ware (Huainan, Anhui Province ) and Hongzhou ware (Fengcheng, Jiangxi Province), and among white porcelain, he mentions the bowls of Xingzhou ware. After this, the Yue kilns fired “secret color” mise celadon, as can be seen in the pieces excavated from the underground palace at Famensi temple (874). The major kiln firing secret color celadon was at Shanglin in Cixi, Zhejiang Province and Qianshi, ruler of Wuyue, had it produced in large quantities.
A large amount of pottery with underglaze copper and iron decoration was fired at Changsha in Hunan Province. A blue glaze using cobalt was often used on Tang three-color ware, and there are several known examples of Tang blue-and-white ware. Examples of early blue-and-white ware have been excavated from the Tang fortress site at Yangzhou, Jiangsu Province and Luoyang, Henan Province. True blue-and-white ware did not appear, however, until the Yuan dynasty.
The Song Dynasty
One of the most well known kilns of the Song dynasty is the Ding kiln (Quyang, Hebei Province), which was active from the end of the Tang dynasty until the Jin dynasty. The remains of the kilns are spread out across Jianci cun, Quyang, Hebei Province. During the Song dynasty, the Ding kilns fired mainly ivory-colored porcelain with carved and impressed decoration as well as green-glazed, black-glazed, and brown-glazed wares. There are also examples of pieces with elegant designs of dragons and phoenixes made for the imperial court. The porcelain clay used at the Ding kilns was fine, hard, and white in color. The pieces have thin walls, and the forms are sophisticated, giving a feeling of stability. The Ding potters developed the fu shao technique of firing pots upside down on their edges to avoid warping, thus increasing productivity. This method, however, makes it unable to apply glaze to the rim, and many Ding pieces have metal bands covering their rims.
During the Five Dynasties, celadon as well as pure white porcelain was fired at Yangmeiting, Huangnitou, and Hutian in Jingdezhen (Jiangxi Province). The celadon was in the Yuezhou style. The white porcelain fired from around the 11th century was mainly blue-white qingbai ware, of which a large amount was produced. Here, too, pots were fired upside down on their mouth rims from around the 12th century. In addition to Jingdezhen, qingbai ware was produced at Jizhou and Nanfeng in Jiangxi Province, Dehua, Jian, and Pucheng in Fujian Province, as well as kilns in Guangdong Province, Anhui Province and Zhejiang Province, establishing a network of qingbai kilns.
The Yaozhou kilns fired white slip ware and black glazed ware as part of the Cizhou network since the Tang dynasty, but celadon thought to have been influenced by Yue ware was also produced there. The celadon fired at the Yaozhou kilns in the Five Dynasties was superior in glaze color and form, also been known as Dong yao. In the Northern Song dynasty, the kilns produced ware with an olive green glaze and carved decoration made in a distinct carving technique called katagiribori in Japanese, in which the carving was made with a knife held at an angle, making the glaze pool into the carved area to render a three-dimensional effect. The center of production of Yaozhou ware was Huangpuzhen, Tongchuan City, Shaanxi Province, and there large quantities of high-quality bowls and dishes with carved or impressed patterns were produced. In the Song dynasty, the fuel for kilns changed from wood to coal, and provincial kilns such as those at Linru and Baofeng began to produce works in the Yaozhou style, establishing a network of kilns producing Yaozhou-type ware. The Yaozhou kilns of the Five Dynasties, influenced by the secret-color celadon of the Yue kilns, pursued the ideal celadon color, which eventually led to Ru yao. Ru ware is believed to have been produced at kilns at Qingliangsi, Baofengxian, Henan Province. These kilns fired not only Ru ware but also Jun style ware and Yaozhou style ware as well. Ru ware is delicately crafted, with fine crazing in the glaze, and was fired supported by tiny needle-like spurs. Extant examples of Ru ware are extremely rare. In 1127, under the attack from the Jin (Jurchen), the Song court moved its capital to Lin’an (Hangzhou), in which the Southern Song official kilns were established. Records show that kilns such as Xiuneisi kilns and Jiaotanxia kilns were operated as Southern Song official kilns. At present, the excavation of the Jiaotanxia kilns (Wuguishan, Hangzhou City) has been reported on, and kilns thought to be the Xiuneisi kilns have been excavated at Fenghuang shan and Laohudong. One characteristic of the Southern Song official wares is that the clay body contains a large amount of iron, resulting in a dark body, and the glaze is applied in thick layers. Pieces similar to the Southern Song official ware have also been excavated at Longquan and Yuezhou (Pengdong kilns).
Until the middle of the Song dynasty, the Longquan kilns produced wares whose forms and glazes were influenced by other kilns in the same province, namely Ou yao and Wuzhou yao in Zhejiang Province. The Longquan kilns are thought to have been established during the Western Jin dynasty, and were part of the Yuezhou ware network. Longquan ware evolved dramatically during the Southern Song dynasty, the number of kilns growing to hundreds scattering throughout the area, including Dayao, Jincun, Xikou, Anfu, Shantou, Dabaian, Shangyaner, and Anrenkou. Kilns such as Xikou fired dark-bodied celadon with techniques learned from the Southern Song official kilns. Many examples of Longquan celadon from the Southern Song and Yuan dynasties have been excavated, and a large number are also extant in Japan. Over 10,000 pieces of Longquan celadon were recovered from a ship which sank off the coast of Sinan, Korea in 1323. Also, in 1991, a large amount of Longquan celadon, along with qingbai ware, was excavated from a storehouse in Suining xian, Sichuan Province, which drew attention of the scholars. Longquan celadon of the later Southern Song dynasty with a superb glaze, covering the body thickly in two or three layers, is known as kinuta celadon in Japan.
Black-glazed tea bowls known as tenmoku in Japan were fired at kilns in various regions during the Song dynasty. Black-glazed ware was first fired in the Eastern Han dynasty, and there are examples of early Yue black-glazed ware from kilns such as Deqing, but it was not until the Northern Song dynasty that the technique was perfected, as seen in wares such as the Ding black-glazed bowls. Tea bowls with black glaze were produced all over China, including Cizhou ware, Yaozhou ware, Jizhou ware, and Jian ware. During the Southern Song dynasty large quantities of black-glazed bowls were produced at the Jian kilns (Shiji zhen, Jianyang xian, Fujian Province) and the hare’s fur tenmoku, oil-spot tenmoku, and yohen tenmoku are highly acclaimed. In Yonghe zhen, Jian City, Jiangxi Province, paper stencils were used to create reversed patterns. Other decorative techniques for tenmoku include those with a pattern made by firing a leaf onto the glaze surface, or taihi tenmoku, the surface of which resembles tortoise shell.
Cizhou ware is representative of privately operated kilns in northern China. It is characterized by pots covered with white slip and decorated with non-standardized, freely drawn patterns using the sgraffito technique. There are also outstanding examples of pieces where iron pigment has been brushed over white slip, and the pattern carved away in sgraffito. Kilns firing this black-glaze sgraffito ware were centered on Ci xian, in the south of Hebei Province. Other kilns firing Cizhou ware were located in Henan Province, Hebei Province, Shanxi Province, Shandong Province and Shaanxi Province. In northern China during the Song dynasty, the Cizhou kilns, Yaozhou kilns, Jun kilns and Ding kilns, while their production sites partly overlapping each other, all actively produced wares to meet popular demand. From the Jin dynasty in the 13th century to the Yuan dynasty, ware decorated with overglaze red and green enamel was produced at several kilns making Cizhou type ware such as Cizhou kiln in Hebei Province, Hebi kiln, Dengfeng kiln, and Yuxian bacun kiln in Henan Province, Zibo kiln in Shandong Province and Changzhi kiln in Shanxi Province. In the Yuan dynasty, Cizhou-style red enamel decorated ware was also fired at Jingdezhen.
Blue-and-White Ware and Wucai Porcelain
There are some early examples of blue-and-white ware from the Tang, Five Dynasties, and Northern Song dynasties. From the Yuan dynasty, number of excavated materials increased, making it possible to trace the stylistic development of blue-and-white ware. The bright cobalt blue that can be painted intricately on the surface of a white porcelain body enabled an entirely new pictorial expression. From the Southern Song dynasty to the Yuan dynasty, the main decorative methods employed at Jingdezhen were carved and impressed patterns. Carved porcelain also began to be decorated with red glaze, or raised beading can be applied to the porcelain surface. The same type of design was attempted in underglaze copper-red painting. The aim of decoration gradually moved towards the emphasis on the technique of expression rather than the subject itself. With the achievement of the use of underglaze blue, wares began to be painted with a great variety of patterns. With the freedom gained from the ability to use the brush to apply designs on pots, the range of decorative subjects suddenly broadened. The expressions attained with intricate brushwork and gradations in the blue color led to the development of realistic depictions not before seen on ceramics. In the mean time, large-scale dishes and jars began to be produced. As a result, the increase in the area of the surface to be decorated was unavoidable, and attention was focused on the subject of the “painting”. The white porcelain surface was viewed as nothing more than a background for painted decoration. Forms that followed after those of the Song dynasty included yuhuchun or pear-shaped vases and meiping vases. Those which first appeared in the Yuan dynasty included stem cups and seng maohu or monk’s-cap ewer.
Main decorative motifs included animals such as dragons and phoenixes as well as qilin, birds, fish, insects and plants such as peonies, melons, Japanese banana leaves and lotus. On the background of the main motifs are patterns of waves, ruyi lappets, Lama-style lotus petals, baoxiang-hua blossoms, peony scrolls and other auspicious symbols.
A blue-and-white covered jar excavated from the tomb dated 1319 in Jiujiang City, Jiangxi Province, is decorated with ruyi lappets, peonies, and lotus petals under the qingbai glaze. The blue-and-white with underglaze copper-red lidded jar with design of four gods and the blue-and-white with underglaze copper-red towered pavilion dated 1338 are also examples of qingbai porcelain decorated with underglaze pigment. A later example is the Temple vase with underglaze blue decoration of dragons among clouds in the collection of the Percival David Foundation, dated 1351. The form is a typical Zhizhen style, named after the Chinese year in which it was made, representing perfection and dignity. We can surmise that during this period there was a rapid process of development from qingbai ware to blue-and-white porcelain. It is believed that at this time, a number of decorative techniques existed simultaneously. The perfection of the blue-and-white technique made possible to depict more intricate designs, and the dexterous execution of various shades of the blue color enhanced the enrichment of decorative expressions. Jingdezhen blue-and-white ware of the Yuan dynasty was born under the influence of Islamic culture, for cobalt was imported from Islamic countries, the forms were inspired by Islamic metal vessels and the designs composed of a number of decorative bands were also borrowed from Islamic design. The Yuan dynasty Jingdezhen kilns were concentrated inside the city as well as in Hutian which is on the outskirts of the city. Hutian was a large kiln complex which produced qingbai ware. Fragments of a jar with applied beading have been discovered there, along with shards of blue-and-white ware whose design corresponds to that on large Yuan blue-and-white dishes found in the Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul and other collections.
The Fuliang porcelain factory at Jiangzuo yuan is believed to have been established by the Yuan court in 1278. In addition to the Jiangzuo yuan porcelain factory there was also a painting factory where blue-and-white underglaze decoration was carried out. A large number of painters, including those from Islamic countries, were employed at this factory; this is reflected in the geometric designs on some of the blue-and-white vessels in the collection of the Topkapi Palace Museum.
Within China, Yuan blue-and-white porcelain has been excavated from storehouses in Baoding, Hebei Province and Gaoan xian, Jiangxi Province. Yuan blue-and-white ware was also made for export, and is found in collections or excavated from around the world. For example, they are found in the collections of the Topkapi Palace Museum and the Ardebil in Iran, and has been excavated at the ruins of the Tughlug Palace, coastal areas in India, the Middle East Damascus, Hormuz, and Fustat of Egypt, and even in Fukui and Okinawa. In Southeast Asia, a large amount of Yuan blue-and-white ware which is different from the Zhizhen style ware has been excavated. However, although this ware was made for court use in the Yuan dynasty, there are almost no examples of it in the Imperial Collection, and there are more pieces of high quality Yuan blue-and-white ware in foreign collections than in China itself. This demonstrates the character of Yuan blue-and-white ware as export ware, and also reflects the assessment of Yuan blue-and-white during the Ming and Qing dynasties.
Another decorative technique can be seen in the overglaze enamel decorated ware of the Jin dynasty Cizhou kiln. This ware features swiftly brushed simple patterns in red, green, and yellow. A well-known example is a bowl dated 1201, which is decorated with a sancai or three-color glaze and red pigment on a white-glaze background. During the Yuan dynasty, the Jingdezhen kilns also produced this type of ware which is similar to the Jin examples. As far as can be determined from shards excavated at Jingdezhen, this ware does not possess the formal qualities of official ware, but retains the liveliness of Cizhou ware. The style of Cizhou ware from northern China was transmitted to the Jingdezhen kilns in Jiangxi Province. With the perfection of the Zhizhen style decoration, blue-and-white ware underwent dramatic development but the overglaze enameling did not show much significant progress.
Recently, the imperial factory site (yuqichang) at Zhushan, Jingdezhen City has been excavated by the Jingdezhen City Archaeological Ceramics Research Institute, and some of the results of the excavation were introduced in the “Imperial Porcelain Extribition” (1995). Yuqichang was an official kiln established at the beginning of the Ming dynasty. Officials were dispatched there, and imperial wares were fired. There are various theories as to exactly when the imperial factory was established, such as 1369 (Jingdezhen Pottery Record), 1426 (History of Jiangxi) or 1426; even historical texts give different dates.
The Hongwu rulers banned sea commerce, limiting trade to imperial tributes. The supply of cobalt from Islamic countries was cut off, and potters began to produce porcelain decorated with underglaze copper red, borrowing designs from blue-and-white ware. Hongwu style ware followed the Yuan tradition, but porcelain decorated with underglaze copper-red was favored, and not much blue-and-white ware was traded. It is known from the Zhushan excavation that large porcelain vessels were produced in great amounts during the reign of Hongwu (1368-1398). The main decorative motifs of Hongwu blue-and-white and underglaze copper-red ware are plants such as peonies, chrysanthemums, Japanse banana leaves, pines, bamboo, and plums. They have no inscription. Bands of decoration around the main motifs include peony floral scrolls, chrysanthemum floral scrolls, lotus petals, Japanese banana leaves, cloud patterns, key fret patterns and wave patterns. Vessel forms include large bowls and dishes, jars, yuhuchun bottles, and meiping vases.
A shard of a dish featuring a dragon with five claws painted in red enamel over the porcelain glaze was excavated from the Hongwu palace at Nanjing. It is considered that the overglaze decoration technique was basically mastered during the reign of Hongwu, but it was not common at that time to combine two or three colors for decoration.
The “Great Zhenghe Expedition” took place in the reign of Yongle (1403-1424), with a large retinue conducting trade on an international scale. As a result, cobalt imports from Islamic countries resumed. The cobalt known as smalt has a low manganese content, resulting in a bright blue color. Pieces decorated in overglaze brown, red and gold have been excavated from the imperial kiln site in Jingdezhen. We can see from these shards that the painters were aiming for clearly expressed patterns in their overglaze work. Decorations in monochrome overglaze enamel were often attempted, but the major decorative technique remained blue-and-white ware. Red overglaze enamel and red glaze were thought to have been first used in the reign of Xuande (1426-1435), but it is now becoming clear that these techniques had already been perfected in the Yongle period. Designs were painted in overglaze or underglaze red on tianbai “sweet white” porcelain, the color which was unique to those produced in the reign of Yongle. Porcelain with green decoration on a yellow base, along with brown decoration over a green base was also produced during the Yongle period.
Yongle porcelain bears the inscription “Made in the Reign of Yongle”, but it was not common to inscribe pots with the name of the official kiln where they were fired. The practice of inscribing pots with inscriptions such as “Made in the Reign of Xuande” is characteristic of pieces from the mid-Xuande period and onwards which were excavated at the imperial kiln site. There is a wide variety of vessel forms, including globular flasks, flasks with flattened body, monk’s cap ewers, candle stands and large dishes. These are decorated freely with well-balanced designs of lotus flowers and floral scrolls. Some pieces, such as the “Blue-and-white dish with flower and bird design” have a pictorial quality which goes beyond mere decoration.
A wide variety of decorative techniques, such as doucai, were introduced during the reign of Xuande. Shards of doucai wares from the Xuande period are among the pieces which have been unearthed from Jingdezhen sites. These pieces were decorated with outlines in underglaze blue, inside of which are painted designs in overglaze red, yellow, green and purple. However, there are no known extant examples of intact doucai ware from the Xuande period. During this period, the decorative technique of painting a design of peonies or lilies in underglaze blue, then painting the surrounding background in overglaze yellow was perfected. The use of this technique began in the Xuande period and continued through the Chenghua, Hongzhi, and Zhengde periods.
Blue-and-white ware from the official kilns of the Zhengtong (1436-1449), Jingtai (1450-1457), and Tianshun (1457-1464) periods do not bear reign marks, but we know from historical records and from excavations at Jingdezhen that a variety of ceramics were actively produced during this period. As far as can be determined from pieces excavated at Zhushan, the wares produced during these periods continued in the style of Xuande ware. However, there are no extant examples of work with the decorative patterns as intricate as those of the Xuande period. Private kilns fired ceramics decorated with human figures or cloud patterns, known as undo-de in Japan.
In the Chenghua period, porcelains continuing in the Xuande tradition were produced, including some imitations bearing Xuande inscriptions. Most of the extant examples of porcelains from this period are relatively small. Though there is not a wide range of forms, some outstanding examples of bowls and dishes were produced during this period. Chenghua bowls known as “Palace Bowls” are especially highly acclaimed.
Very few examples of doucai porcelain from the Chenghua period is known but over 10,000 foot rims alone have been excavated from the imperial kiln site in Jingdezhen, indicating that doucai was produced in large quantities. This also gives us an idea of the strict quality control which was practiced at the time. Most doucai wares of the Chenghua period were small pieces such as cups and bowls. At the beginning of the Ming dynasty, more colors were added to the overglaze red and green. The excavation in Jingdezhen shows us the true richness of overglaze decoration in the Chenghua period, including overglaze monochrome enamel, wucai ware, doucai ware, ware decorated with underglaze blue and overglaze red, and ware with overglaze purple, green, or underglaze blue on yellow backgrounds, as well as ware with green designs painted on white porcelain or against a red background, which were also popular during the Jiajing period. Large numbers of jars inscribed with the character tian, meaning the sky or heaven, have also been discovered. The extant examples of Chenghua doucai are brilliant and refined, worthy of an official kiln.
Porcelain production in the succeeding Hongzhi (1488-1505) and Zhengde (1506-1521) periods is thought to have continued in the same way as in the Chenghua period, but extant examples as rare, with little more than a few pieces of ware decorated with designs in overglaze green or underglaze blue against yellow backgrounds.
In Jingdezhen, porcelain was produced at both the official kilns and private kilns. Beginning around the Jiajing period, however, orders for official ware from the imperial factory became so large that private kilns were commissioned to produce some of the ware. In this way the system of “officially controlled, privately fired” ware was established. As a result, the quality of the products of the private kilns improved, due to assimilation of production techniques and quality control. In this way, private kilns firing wares of superior quality were able to meet the demand of the wealthy class. The ware fired at these kilns included overglaze polychrome decoration of the traditional style. The Jiajing period saw the production of a variety of colorful wucai or five-color ware, and the variety of decorative motifs also broadened. The designs of dragons, phoenixes, bird-and-flower, fish, lotus ponds and peonies which were often seen in the products of the official kilns until the middle of the Ming dynasty underwent various changes during the Jiajing period. The conventional designs that had been handed down and copied within the official kilns began to show a decrease in the severity of decorative styles in the Jiajing period. In turn, there was a notable increase in the use of auspicious symbols as designs. This trend was observed chiefly in the products of private kilns. The ware known as kinrande was made in the Wanli period.
According to records, official ware was produced once during the Longqing period (1567-1572), and the wares bear the reign mark “Made in the Reign of Longqing.” In the following Wanli period, there was a dramatic increase in the variety of wucai or five-color enameled ware being produced. Blue-and-white ware with the same forms and designs as the wucai ware was also produced. Particularly notable are the large utensils such as wine vessels, censers, and candle stands as well as stationary such as brush cases, inkstones, brush holders, and brush rests. The decorations intricately cover the surface of the pieces, and in addition to decorative motifs used in the Jiajing period, auspicious designs such as deer and bats were also adopted. Pieces with openwork decoration were also produced. Porcelain produced at the beginning of the Wanli period was carefully crafted, but as tougher orders for production were assigned in the latter half of the period, the workmanship became coarser.
At the end of the Ming dynasty, private kilns in Jingdezhen fired large dishes known as “Kraak porcelain,” which were exported to Europe by the Dutch East India Company. At the end of the Ming dynasty private kilns replaced official kilns as the most active centers of ceramic production. From the Tianqi period (1621-1627) through the Chongzhen period (1628-1644) blue-and-white ware known as ko-sometsuke in Japan was fired. Following this, another type of ware in underglaze blue known as shonzui, or iro-e shonzui with overglaze painting, was produced. ‘Nanjing ware’ with overglaze decoration was exported to countries across Europe. Coarse polychrome and blue-and-white ware was fired at kilns in Fujian Province and Guangdong Province. Among these, the ware known as swatow ware, gosu-de and gosu aka-e in Japan was fired at kilns such as Zhangzhou yao, Fujian Province from the end of the 16th century until the middle of the 17th century.
At the beginning of the Qing dynasty, Jingdezhen private kilns produced wares of unrestrained forms and designs, the so-called “transitional-style” ware, which was made for export to Europe.
In 1680, the imperial factory resumed operation, and Jingdezhen became a thriving center of ceramic production. The three-color glazed decorations seen in the Wanli period reappeared in an even more sophisticated form, as represented by a dish with a design of delicately incised dragons and clouds along with painted pomegranates. The amount of carefully crafted ware with intricate five-color overglaze decoration increased. While the colors used in the Ming dynasty were red, yellow, green, purple, and black, more colors appeared during the Kangxi period (1662-1722). Also, many pieces with monochrome glazes of superb colors such as red, blue, and yellow were produced. In addition, the enamel painting technique which was used on metal and glass was applied to porcelain. In this case, the vessels were made at Jingdezhen and taken to the inner Palace workshops in Beijing to be decorated by imperial court painters. Utilizing this technique, the overglaze enameling technique of famille rose was developed at Jingdezhen. The opaque enamels used in famille rose made possible to achieve delicate painted decorations in a variety of colors and hues.
The famille rose technique began to be used in the Kangxi period, and in the Yongzheng period (1723-1735) a great number of works were created with realistic depictions of flowers and birds, represented in even more delicate gradations of color. As a result the blue-and-white ware of the official kilns experienced no further technical development, and gradually went into decline. The appearance of the famille rose technique represented one of the pinnacles of overglaze decorated porcelain.
In the Qianlong period (1736-1795) the number of decorative subjects increased, and the famille rose technique became even more intricate. As a result, polychrome porcelain imitating the texture of different materials such as lacquer, stone, and wood began to appear, which render a light, playful atmosphere. Rather than observing this phenomenon as the degradation of ceramics, we can view the works as avant garde challenges possessing a modern quality. Works known as guyuexuan and vases with designs of Western figures are representative examples of the overglaze enamel painted ware decorated by imperial court painters.
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