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Five Famous Kilns in Song Dynasty

The Song Dynasty (960-1279) witnessed booming development of Chinese porcelain making crafts. and porcelain making saw big achievements in terms of types. styles and firing techniques. Five kilns became outstanding during this period. namely

Royal Kiln. Ding Kiln. Ru Kiln. Jun Kiln and Ge Kiln. Royal Kiln: It includes the Northern Song Royal Kiln and the Southern Song kiln. The South Song kiln site was at Hangzhou. Most of its products were bowls. plates. bottles and washing vessels. most of which had no decoration and had cracks. Moreover. there were products with thin body and thick glaze.

The Ru Kiln was established in 1107 AD, in the Northern Song Dynasty. Its location was believed to be in the Linru County, Henan Province. However, the archeologist never found the exact location of the kiln after many year's research. In 1986, the ruins of the kiln was found in the neighboring Baofeng County. 22 porcelain vessels were excavated, thus answered the question that confused the archeologist for many years. In the Song Dynasty, the Baofeng County was called Ruzhou, so the kiln was named as Ru Kiln.

Ru Kiln was built up to produce royal utilities only. Its design was affected by another big kiln the Yue Kiln in South China. Therefore the Ru Kiln produced celadon as its major product. The roughcast, glaze and design were all exquisite and well controlled, demonstrating a very high standard of porcelain producing. The cast of the Ru Kiln porcelains were very smooth, fully covered by bluish glaze, with some tiny fine crackles. The Ru Kiln made utilities such as bowls, plates, bottles, basins and boxes. It was very difficult and complicated to made a perfect Ru porcelain, since small pieces were easier to control, the Ru Kiln almost never produce vessels larger than 30cm diameter. Usually it was between 10 -16 cm.

The Ru Kiln was only opened for a few decades. It was closed when the Northern Song was defeated by the Jin Dynasty in 1127. Therefore even in the next Southern Song Dynasty, the Ru porcelains were considered very valuable. Today, only 65 pieces of Ru porcelains are well kept. Among them 23 are reserved in the Taipei National Palace Museum, 17 in the Beijing Forbidden City Museum, 8 in the Shanghai Museum, 7 in the Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art in Britain, others reserved by the private collectors. In 1992, a small Ru porcelain plate with the diameter of 8 cm was sold in New York at the price of 1.54 million US dollars. Another Ru Kiln Vessel was sold at the price of 50 million Hong Kong Yuan (about 6 million USD).

The Ru Kiln porcelains have a special sapphire like clear blue. Many collectors call it "the blue sky after shower". This is an important character of the Ru porcelains.

Ding Kiln: It originated in the late Tang Dynasty (618-907) and ended in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). The main products of Ding Kiln in the Song Dynasty were white porcelain. In the mean time. green glaze. black glaze and brown glaze were also fired. Ding Kiln was famous for its beautiful. various decorative patterns. The plain. stamped vessels of Ding Kiln were always considered as a rarity of ceramic art. 

Production sites of Ding kilns were found in present day Quyang County, Hebei Province. Quyang County back in the Song Dynasty was within the Dingzhou region, hence the name Ding kilns. The history of the Ding kilns can be traced back based on unearthed specimens. There were white porcelains being made here as early as the Tang Dynasty; by the Five Dynasties Period, the porcelain business here was already booming. After the Northern Song Dynasty, Ding kilns were famous for its off-white glazes and other areas all strove to imitate Ding porcelain, which became the standard of white porcelain in China. Aside from white porcelain, the Ding kilns also produced black, crimson, and green glazed porcelain. Its technology and varieties in glaze colors were astonishing.

Early Ding porcelain was single colored with little or no decoration; by late-northern Song Dynasty however, there would be exquisite patterns on porcelain ware, which were engraved, etched or imprinted. The patterns were precisely laid out, with a clear sense of sections and layers; lines were clear and organized into loose and dense areas. Popular motifs included water waves, swimming fish, land animals, birds, flowers, and playful children. Peonies, lotuses, and pomegranates and so on were the most common floral motifs. Engraved floral décor was the principal way of ornamentation in early Song porcelain. Once the technique caught on, it was combined with comb-etched images as another form of ornamentation. For example, at the center part of a flare-lip dish, the image of a flower was first carved, then with a fine-toothed comb, the area within the outlines of the leaves were comb-etched, leaving parallel lines that represent veins of the leaves. The most popular motifs done in this technique were the lotus, peony and so on. Engravings usually relied on bamboo chips and knives, while comb-etchings relied on a tool similar in shape to a comb to leave orderly patterns on the body. The combined result was commonly referred to as bamboo outlines with brushed patters, with lines that were tidy and natural. Imprinted patterns on Ding porcelain first appeared in mid-northern Song Dynasty, and matured late in the dynasty. the patterned décor was often place on the insides of plates and bowls. To make imprinted patterns, it would require a mold with engraved patterns, which is pressed onto the not yet dried surface of the clay body. Most often, the imprinted image would be a positive image and would have added thickness and can create a very special effect of depth when light strikes the object. The motifs and designs were normally borrowed from silk tapestry or gold and silverware produced in the Dingzhou area. Therefore, imprinted motifs on Ding porcelain have appeared to be mature in style right from the start, with very high artistic merits. It had quite an effect on imprinted designs of latter generations.

The Song Dynasty Ding kilns produced vessels such as bowls, dishes, jars, cups, cases, vases, and pots, all for daily use. Vessels such as bowls with their large mouths and thinly cast bodies, needed to be overturned when fired in order to avoid deformation. Therefore at the mouth, there was the absence of glaze which felt quite astringent. High class items often have copper, gold or silver rims at the mouths. Rare items were the round-bottomed jars and baby-shaped pillows with forms that were realistic and cuddly. From today’s surviving examples of Ding kilns’ quality works, people have found especially valuable pieces which contained inscriptions, imprinted writing or handwritings.

Among the five great kilns of the Song Dynasty, only the Ding kilns produced white porcelain, and it was quite famous during its time. It was for a time offered as tribute to the imperial families but was then discontinued for an unclear cause. The official given reason was that Ding porcelain had unglazed parts. This was because Ding porcelain was produced through upside-down firing, and had no glaze at its mouth. However, Ding porcelain often had extensive gold, silver and copper edged around the unglazed rim. Therefore, some people believe that the real reason for discontinuing imperial use of Ding porcelain was not because of the unglazed areas. Instead, it was attributed to the aesthetic preferences of its times. The white of the Ding porcelain was turbid, opaque and bland. In order to counter such a drawback, most Ding wares were decorated with imprinted or engraved patterns. When compared to porcelain of the Ge, Imperial, Fu and Jun kilns, Ding porcelain contained more synthetic feature, which fell short of achieving the ideals of natural and subtle beauty in the Song Dynasty. for this reason, Ding porcelain did not quite capture the interest of the literati class, and may have been considered objects of somewhat vulgar taste and style

Ru Kiln: The kiln site was at Linru county. Henan Province. The exact kiln site has not been found till now. Only porcelains were handed down. The main products Ru Kiln fired were court porcelain. Ru Kiln only existed for a short period. only twenty years. Therefore. of the famous kilns in the Song Dynasty.  Ru Kiln has the least porcelains handed down.

Ru Kiln Ware
The ware produced at the Ru Kiln is some of the most highly prized of all Chinese stoneware. Until 1986, when the original kiln site was discovered, only 60 intact pieces were known to exist. At the site, archaeologist discovered 22 more intact pieces along with many fragments and broken piece.

The Ru Kiln was established in 1107 AD, during the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) to produce items only for imperial use. The kiln was in production during the reigns of Emperors Huizong (1100-1126) and Qinzong (1126-1127), until 1127 when production was halted with the defeat of the Northern Song Dynasty by the Jin Dynasty. Almost immediately the Ru Kiln Ware became incredibly valuable. The kiln was located in Henan Province’s Ruzhou County, which is where the kiln got its name. 

The pieces are famed for their thick cloudy, crackled glaze which was sapphire blue or light green in color. Unlike other stoneware, the pieces produced at the Ru Kiln were completely coated with glaze. When loaded into the kiln they were placed on spikes to keep them from sticking to the kiln’s shelves. The glaze has small amounts of iron which oxidizes when firing and turn greenish. The glazes range in color from nearly white to a deep robin’s egg blue. The crackles in the glaze are created when the glaze cools and shrinks faster than the body of the piece causing it to stretch and split. During the Song Dynasty, it was the first time that the crackles were considered a desirable trait, rather than a defect. The Ru Kiln pieces originally had thick bodies with thin glazes applied, but as time went on, the bodies became thinner and the glazes thicker until the glazes were actually thicker than the bodies. The glaze would tend to drip, causing it to be thinner at the top and the clay would show through. The kiln made such items as bowls, plates, bottles, and basins. Ru Kiln Ware was very difficult and complicated to produce and prone to failure, so generally only smaller pieces were produced to ensure a higher success rate was achieved. Most pieces were only 10 to16cm in size and no piece to date has been found larger than 30cm.

When the discovery of the Ru Kiln was announced in 1987, it was quickly understood that it was the most important archaeological even in modern Chinese ceramics history. Excavations continued for many years and 15 kiln furnaces, kiln equipment, and two workshops were uncovered. It was also discovered that some Ru Kiln Ware was pea green in color and incised and had molded designs. These were not known to exist before the discovery of the kiln.

Jun Kiln:
The kiln site was at Yuxian County. Henan Province. It was created in the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) and became popular in the late Northern Song Dynasty. Jun Kiln belongs to north celadon system. It featured flamb glaze. The glaze color was reddish celadon. The other feature was its glazed carves. Some royal appliance such as basin. tray and Zun (a kind of wine vessel used in ancient China) are all carved with numbers from 1 to 10.

with the main kiln site located in Yuxian County of Central China's Henan Province, constituted a famous school of porcelain manufacture that flourished in the Song Dynasty (960-1279). Various duplicates of the famous Jun ware appeared throughout different dynasties.

The best (and also largest in scale) porcelain vessels were unearthed from the Bagua Cave kiln site. Kiln sites were fairly dense in the vicinity of Shenhou, while various places in Yuxian County produced numerous ceramic products.

Jun ware porcelain kiln sites have been discovered in Jiaxian, Dengfeng, Xinan, Tangyin, and Anyang in Henan Province, while some of the porcelain-producing areas in North China's Hebei and Shanxi provinces also manufactured Jun ware porcelain.

Sites of large-scale porcelain kilns were excavated at Bagua Cave in Yuxian County. The unearthed products and bronze coins inscribed with the reigns of emperors have shown that after a long development in the mid Northern Song period, Jun ware reached a production peak in the late Northern Song Dynasty, when excellent quality ware was produced, though this quality was maintained for but a relatively short period. 

After the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234) conquered the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127), the manufacture of Jun ware continued in and around Henan. Wars became less frequent after the Dading reign (1184) in the Jin Dynasty and society was fairly stable, enabling the economy to recover to some degree from the ravages of war. This development included Jun ware, whose production expanded up until the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368).

Jun ware was outstanding for the firing of its copper-red glaze, which contained large amounts of copper oxides. Fired with reduction (cooler) flame, the copper in the glaze became colloid (semi fluid) particles at high temperatures, and an iridescent (unstably bright) red furnace-transmutation color (color changed by furnace heat) appeared on the glaze surface.

Jun ware came in a big variety of glaze colors, such as sky-blue and moon-white interspersed with rose purple. With a thick lustrous glaze and ritualistic in shape, it is a gem in Song art porcelain history.

In the late Northern Song Dynasty, Emperor Huizong ordered Jun and other kilns to make flower pots and other porcelain vessels for the imperial court; complete sets of these in varying sizes and shapes, with serial numbers inscribed on the bottom, have been unearthed at the Bagua Cave kiln site in Yuxian County.

Ge Kiln: It was famous for the patterns. Most of its products were black. which can be divided into eel blood. blackish blue. fawn. net pattern. flower pattern. fine pattern etc. The feature of the cracks was: flat. tight and a little blue. Although there are a lot of porcelains of Ge Kiln handed down. the Ge Kiln sites still have not been found. This is one of the secrets of Chinese ceramic history. 

The original Ge Kiln was reportedly located in Longquan County of East China'sZhejiang Province, but so far no site has been discovered.

It was said that two brothers, the elder named Zhang Sheng the First, and the younger Zhang Sheng the Second, were skilled at porcelain making, with their wares greatly acclaimed among the people. According to theAnnals of Chuzhou Prefecture, the vessels made by Zhang Sheng the First were called Ge (elder brother) ware, known from the many specimens handed down.

These vessels were light in color: powder blue, pale white, or the yellow of parched rice. They had not the kingfisher green of the Longquan ware glaze. Rather, the glaze of Ge ware was crackled, with large and small crackles interspersed. The large crackles (decoration patterns of very small surface cracks) were jet-black and the small ones brownish yellow, leading to the popular description of, "Golden wires and iron threads."

Crackles appeared because the ingredients of the paste and glaze had different compositions and so expanded to different degrees during firing and cooling. Accidental at first, the crackles were later intended, as it was thought they gave the vessels a touch of classic elegance. And so this original blemish became a special feature of Ge ware, with succeeding generations of potters vying in its imitation -- consciously arranging the grains of the ingredients in a given direction to produce crystals that resulted in crackles of varying sizes on the vessels' surface.

Ge ware paste was iron black, with its objects being mainly censers, vases, and bowls. Years of research prove that Ge ware celadon was a special variety of Longquan celadon influenced by Southern Song Guan ware and it was given its present name Ge ware by later generations. The story of the Zhang brothers directing kilns was handed down from theYuan Dynasty(1279-1368) but has not been substantiated by archaeological discoveries.

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