Yue Ware History

One of the most historically significant examples of Chinese porcelain was Yue ware, first produced in the Chinese province of Zhejiang in 2nd Century CE. Yue ware is characterized by the glazed celadon finish and grey to olive green hues. Early vessels were typically minimally decorated but curvy and elegant in appearance. Yue ware can be attributed with developing and influencing virtually all of South Chinese ceramics varieties.

The wares get their name from the Yue kilns in Northern Zhejiang, these kilns were the fastest developing of all celadon kilns – having the most sites, largest area of coverage and the best quality of products. These kilns led the production and development of celadon in China. The name ‘Yue’ comes from the Tang Dynasty, which referred to the names of products by the locations of their kilns, in this case “Yue” was short for the city of “Yuezhou”.

Yue kilns were special in that they used what was known as ‘dragon kiln technology’. The so-called dragon kiln consisted of a sloped body with the roof sealed up, the fire chamber was at the bottom, and the top was open as the flue exhaust. The kiln was built on a hill slope, as a dragon crouching from the bottom to the top, hence the name. The dragon kiln permitted rapid temperature rise and decrease. The celadon of the Yue kilns was fired at 1200 °C and sometimes as high as 1300 °C. The key material in the process was porcelain stone – a mixture of mica, quartz and other minerals. The compound had a fairly high iron content which gave some of the pottery its green lustre.

The Yue kilns produced a variety of products including jars, spitoons, wine pots, incense burners, cups, bowls, flasks, cases, writing-brush basins, dishes, pots, plates and so on. Early Yue celadon had a finely-textured body usually in grey or white. The glazed areas were different depending on the vessel and its use: bowls, drinking cups, flat bowls and basins all have full inner glaze. The outer glaze was usually up to the base, which was normally left untouched. Kettles, jars and other water vessels had fully glazed exteriors and the interior was left bare.

With Yue ware, the body’s colour complemented the colour of the glaze. Early celadon had a light colour body and a greenish glaze. Later celadon had a thicker body with a deeper tone, to match the glaze was also thicker and applied very uniformly all over. Common decorations included motifs such as dragons, phoenix, parrots, butterflies, flowers and famous Chinese figures.

The Yue kiln style was prized as the “King of All Kilns”, for its long tradition, advanced celadon technology and superior quality all across China. The finest of all examples were tailor – made especially for the Imperial court, at the Shanglin Lake Yue kiln. These pieces have been praised for their lustre and vivid colour in romantic poetry all across East Asia including Korea an Japan.

Irv