Wucai, which has its origins in the earlier Doucai ceramics, first appeared during the reign of the Ming dynasty Emperor Jiajing who ruled the Chinese empire between 1521 and 1567. Its manufacture continued through the Ming dynasty until its demise in 1644, and into the succeeding Qing dynasty.
Jingdezhen, often called the Porcelain City and is still producing fine ceramics today, was the main site of production for Wucai ceramics. Although Wucai can be translated as ‘five-colour’ the colours were not strictly limited to that number and the term is best understood as simply multicoloured.
Wucai porcelain was made by overglazing ceramic pieces after they had been fired once with a blue under-glaze. The overglaze included a variety of colours such as red, green, blue, yellow and purple, and once it had been applied the pieces were fired a second time.
Wucai objects can vary widely in their decoration, ranging from the relatively simple to the positively ornate. Motifs, often very finely painted, include depictions of dragons, phoenixes, flowers, plants and fish. Later examples of Wucai porcelain from the Qing Dynasty era utilised black and gold to outline the artwork, giving it a vivid and lifelike quality.
The finest production period for Wucai came in the Qing Dynasty period during the Emperor Kangxi’s reign from 1661 to 1722, and so are known as Kangxi Wucai.
Kangxi Wucai porcelain is characterised by its intricate decoration and fine craftsmanship, which were made possible by the technological innovations of the era. These innovations included improved firing techniques and new pigments such as blues and black. New painting mediums, oil rather than water based, allowed artists to utilise a wider range of styles.