The Yixing area of Jiangsu Province has a long and distinguished history. Yixing was situated at the junction of the Suzhou, Zhejiang, and Anhui provinces, next to the famous Taihu Lake. Legend has it that Yixing was founded by Fan Li, a senior official in the Kingdom of Zhao. He made a fortune making pottery there and was given the title Taozhugong, or “the porcelain gentleman”; the kiln workers of Yixing used to call him “father of pottery.” However, archaeological evidence shows that Yixing had been a production site of pottery since the Neolithic Age. The pottery of Yixing began to achieve popularity after the Ming Dynasty, as one of its towns, by the name of Shuye, crafted the single coloured, undecorated Zisha pottery.
Cizhou is the name given to a number of stonewares, grey or buff, of varying degrees of hardness, with painted, incised or carved decoration on a clay slip. These stonewares were not only made in the region of Cizhou, Hebei Province, but in several provinces of China during the Song, Yuan and Ming periods. The great centres of production were in the north of China in the provinces of Hebei, Henan and Shanxi.
Cizhou wares seem to have been very popular, made for a clientèle of rich merchants, at a period when the paintings of famous artists adorned the walls of tea houses of the capital. While this type of pottery did not apparently attract Chinese collectors of the 18th and 19th centuries, it was much appreciated by the Japanese as a kind of folk art, for its rustic look. Nowadays Cizhou fetch very high prices at public auctions.
Stoneware with black or brown glaze were made in the same centres as celadon ever since the Six Dynasties. During the Song Dynasty, black glaze was produced in both the southern and northern parts of the country. The finest specimens came from Henan, Jiangxi and from Fujian Provinces. In addition to shadow blue ware, pure black glaze ware was made in Hutian Village of the Jingdezhen area. But it was not until the Yuan Dynasty that black ware was mass-produced. Wares produced at the Jizhou kiln of Jiangxi and Jian kiln of Fujian were renowned and were called Tenmoku glaze. The famous varieties were known as “oil-spot”, “hare’s fur”, and “tiny spots”. The black glaze ware features the use of a saturated solution of chemical compounds of iron to produce various kinds of natural crystal in place of artificial decorations. This crystalline glaze was a unique Chinese creation.
When considering the contributions of the “porcelain capital” – Jingdezhen, to Chinese ceramics, one cannot ignore the Qinghua porcelain of the Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368). There were other areas that produced Qinghua during the Yuan Dynasty, such as Jiangshan in Zhejiang province, and Jianshui and Yuxi and Yunnan. However, none of them came even close to the sheer quality, volume, and aesthetic value of Jingdezhen Qinghua.
Qinghua porcelain was a kind of underglaze coloured porcelain. It relied on natural cobalt minerals as colouring, and imagery and motifs painted on top of the clay body with a Chinese calligraphy brush. Then with the application of the transparent glaze, it was first created in the Gong County, Henan Province in the Tang Dynasty, and continued to be produced throughout the Song Dynasty. By the Yuan Dynasty, the art had attained a level of maturity. Its colours were refined and elegant, capturing the gracefulness of traditional Chinese ink and wash paintings. Starting with the Yuan and continuing through the Ming and Qing Dynasties, Qinghua was consistently the most popular product. Qinghua coloured porcelain had an artistic style that was the most representative of the Chinese. It began in the Yuan Dynasty, as single-coloured Chinese porcelain began to be replaced by porcelain ware with coloured decorations.
The white ware made at Jingdezhen in the Ming period takes its inspiration from the shufu wares produced under the Yuan. The body is fine-grained, the glaze thick with small ripples called “orange peel”. Some pieces have anhua or “hidden” decoration, so called because it is only visible against the light. The motifs are very lightly incised on the body. They are sometimes moulded in very light relief, scarcely perceptible beneath the glaze.
The manufacture of these white wares went on through the course of the whole dynasty. In the Yongle period (1403-24) the glaze was a slightly bluish-white, while under Chenghua it had a slightly buff tint due to oxidation firing. The glaze often had little pin holes; these do not exist in the chalky or “skimmed milk” copies of the 18th Century.
Qingbai (or Yingqing) is a type of white porcelain known for its greenish/bluish tint and fine quality. Although it was produced during the Song Dynasty, it is not part of the five classic wares (wu wei-ci) of the Song period. Qingbai began appearing in the Northern Song period around 960-1127 and quickly became popular on the Chinese market. Their popularity can be attributed to the fact that although they were produced in Jingdezhen, they were not restricted to only Imperial use. The peak of Qingbai popularity was between 1127-1279, when they were widely exported to China’s neighbouring countries, and duplicated across China’s various kilns.
Tenkei or Tianqi wares refer to underglaze blue porcelain made in the unofficial kilns of Jingdezhen, Jiangxi Province, China during the reign of Emperor Tianqi in 17th century China. These wares were produced primarily for the purpose of export to Japan.
Tenkei wares were highly imaginative with decorations inspired by the contemporary paintings of the period. In particular, the master landscape painter, Dong Qichang as evidenced by the use of strong light and dark shade contrast of the blue.
The Wuzhou kiln was situated in central Jinhua region of present day Zhejiang Province. Porcelain kilns spread throughout the area. Archaeological research has revealed a total of more than 600 ancient kiln sites, dating from Han to Ming Dynasties. This discovery revealed unusually numerous kilns that have been in service for very long periods, and held a relatively significant position in the history of ceramics.
Early specimens of Wuzhou kiln porcelain had light-gray glazes and were rather rough in texture. It had poorly tempered and under-vitrified clay with irregularities on the surface. Speckles often formed on the glaze of Wuzhou porcelain; they were green, sometimes with yellow mixed in. The many crackles on the surface, which often contained protruding yellow crystallized matters, were a unique feature of Wuzhou porcelain. By the middle phase of the development of Wuzhou kiln porcelain, porcelain clay resources in the area had become scattered and depleted, making it difficult to mine so the craftspeople used local red clay, which was easily mined, to model the bodies of the vessels. But since red clay contained high iron oxide and titanium oxide levels, it became dark purple after being fired, undermining the quality of the greenish glaze. A layer of fine white slip clay was, therefore, used to cover the body. With the cosmetic clay underneath, the glaze appeared smooth and soft, showing a little brown in green or yellow-green. However, the crackling and crystallization in the glaze was even more apparent when compared to porcelain wares that had porcelain clay for the bodies.