Four Famous Jingdezhen Porcelains
Chinese people have produced porcelain for a very long time. To some extent, the world became acquainted with China through its chinaware and porcelain, which was often used as a yardstick in evaluating Chinese civilization.
For over 2,000 years, Jingdezhen was known as "the porcelain capital" of the world. The City of Jingdezhen in East China's Jiangxi Province, which was called Xinping in ancient times, began to make porcelain as early as 200BC in the Han Dynasty (206BC-AD220). During the reign of Emperor Jingde (1004-1007) of the Song Dynasty (960-1279), all of the products made here bore the royal Jingde mark, and the name of the city was therefore changed to Jingdezhen (Jingde Town).
For centuries, the city was considered as China's most important center for porcelain production. Here, ceramics were produced as far back as the Han Dynasty (206-220BC). The imperial porcelain was so exquisite that it was described as being "as white as jade, as bright as a mirror, as thin as paper , with a sound as clear as a bell".
Today, Jingdezhen remains a national center for porcelain production. The most famous types of porcelain from Jingdezhen are famille -rose porcelain, linglong porcelain, blue-white porcelain and color-glazed porcelain.
Jingdezhen porcelain has four special features that are commonly described as "white likejade, bright as a mirror, thin aspaper, and sounds like a chime." The elegant form and unique techniques used to make Jingdezhen porcelain have made it a star of Chinese civilization.
"The best porcelain of the world is in China, and the best porcelain in China is from Jingdezhen," the Chinese writer Guo Moruo once said.
The unique porcelain culture of Jingdezhen is created from the abundance of porcelain relics, the valuable porcelain art, the excellent porcelain techniques and the intelligent porcelain artists.
Over the long history of Jingdezhen porcelain, a complete set of traditional porcelain making techniques comprising 72 procedures has been formed, of which, the most unique are the five main ceramics-making phases; biscuit-making, biscuit-trimming, glazing, blue flower-painting and kiln-burning.
Famille-rose porcelain, so called its pink enamel, first came into being during the Yongzheng reign (1723-1735) in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and continued to be made throughout the Qianlong reign (1736-1795) and beyond. Main materials and techniques used to make the porcelain were all introduced from abroad in the beginning.
When making famille -rose porcelain, craftsmen fired glass whiteness onto plain porcelain, creating patterns with Chinese painting techniques and then baking it in a kiln.
During the Kangxi reign, there were only a few works of famille -rose porcelain, whose color paintings were also very simple -- mainly patterns of flowers, clouds and dragons . During the Yongzheng reign, the porcelain enjoyed great improvements. Both the porcelain and decorations produced in this period featured a most delicate quality and brilliant color; these pieces are among the most highly prized works of this type of porcelain.
The famille-rose porcelain produced in the Qianlong reign saw an obvious change -- other colors such as green, yellow, blue, carmine or purple, were added to the white porcelain. At that time, the porcelain was no longer as delicate, crystal-like and colorful as that produced in the Yongzheng reign. When it came to the Jiaqing and Daoguang reigns, famille - rose porcelain mainly inherited a form of traditional development and did not witness much improvement. The ceramic glaze used was not very refined and featured strong hues.
During the Xianfeng and Tongzhi reigns, the composition of famille-rose pictures became quite complicated, although the painting skills were simple and the materials used were rough. The famille-rose porcelain produced during these periods featured comparatively faint hues, and, in order to make the colors more brilliant, gold was applied to the famille -rose base.
The characteristics listed above are the major criteria used to distinguish famille -rose porcelain produced in different periods during the Qing Dynasty.
Famille-rose porcelain wares in the Qing Dynasty mainly included pots, bottles, wine vessels, jars, basins, plates, urns, boxes, and so on. The patterns mostly included dragons and phoenixes, flowers, landscapes, human figures and themes from legends. Subjects on the porcelains often came from paintings of famous painters at that time.
Linglong porcelain was created and developed on the basis of pieced work during the Xuande reign of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Reputed as "porcelain inlaid with glass", linglong porcelain is famous both at home and abroad for its exquisitely carved patterns and glittering, translucent appeal.
Grain-sized holes were hollowed out in the thin roughcast and the glaze was applied several times to cover them. Then, the half-finished products were baked in kilns to produce linglong porcelain.
Characterized by pierced ornamentation, the porcelain saw some developments in terms of technique in the Qing Dynasty. During this period, craftsmen ingeniously integrated the techniques of making blue-and-white porcelain with that of linglong porcelain to create the blue-and-white linglong porcelain much loved by the people. The dark-green transparent linglong designs and emerald-green blue-and-white patterns served as a foil to each other, creating a unique sense of beauty.
Linglong wares were generally limited to small objects, such as cups, brush pots and covered jars. The decoration was sometimes unglazed, left either white or enhanced with gilding or colored glazes.
Among all porcelain produced in Jingdezhen, the most representative is blue-white porcelain. Baking blue-white porcelain originated in the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127). During the Yuan and Ming dynasties (1271-1644), blue-white porcelain became increasingly popular, and since the 14th century, manufacturers have shipped blue-white porcelain to world markets. The porcelain reached its peak in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Its thin, translucent quality and exotic motifs made it very valuable throughout Europe and the colonies, ranking first among blue-white porcelain nationwide.
Drawing the design with a cobalt pigment onto the stoneware body and painting over it with a transparent glaze creates the blue-white style, also known as "underglazed blue". The piece is then fired at a high temperature. Blue-white porcelain was introduced during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) and has been in production ever since thanks to its bright colors, simple yet elegant patterns, and smooth glaze that never fades.
The Yuan Dynasty is a key period for the development of the firing techniques for blue-white porcelain in China. Its unique characteristics were based on the techniques of former dynasties. Blue-white porcelain had become a major porcelain product in China by the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing dynasties (1644-1911).
Blue-white porcelain of the Yuan Dynasty is large, with a thick roughcast. Generally, the works include big bottles, pots, bowls and plates, with the traditional flavor of the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties. Due to the underdeveloped techniques, there are two interfaces on the body and several veins inside the body. The roughcast is not as smooth as that of the Ming and Qing dynasties and the glaze is thicker due to more iron in the raw glaze materials.
There are bamboo-like lines at the foot of the porcelain. The body is connected to the foot before the glaze is coated. The body is decorated with lotuses, clouds and flowers. Dense decorations were not only applied to blue-white porcelain but also to picture weaving and stone carving, reflecting the unique characteristics of the time.
The major producer of blue-white porcelain in the Yuan Dynasty was Jingdezhen. In addition, there were kilns for blue-white porcelain production in East China's Zhejiang Province and Southwest China's Yunnan Province .
Blue-white porcelain actually belongs to color-glazed porcelain and the coloring agent used is called cobalt oxide. First, using cobalt oxide, paint the unbaked mould, then apply a layer of translucent glaze over it and bake it at 1,300 degrees Celsius. The cobalt oxide will be reduced under the high temperature into a blue hue, which will be very bright and durable without poisonous lead. Each piece of monochrome-glazed porcelain has a single bright color with an exquisite design. A very good mastery of controlling temperature changes and content composition is required. Blue-white porcelain is most famous among the four traditional types of porcelain produced in Jiangdezhen, and is renowned as the "ever-lasting blue flower."
In 1979 Jingdezhen blue-white porcelain won a national golden prize and in 1985 it was honored with three gold medals at international fairs held in Leipzig, Brno, etc. Since then, the name "Jingdezhen Blue-white Porcelain" has spread far and wide. By far, it is a top product in the porcelain business, boasting the most prizes and highest standards.
Color-glazed porcelain was one of Jingdezhen's major products during the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. It was colored using both high-temperature and low-temperature glazes, with copper, iron, or gold as the color agent. From the time of the Yongzheng and Qianlong reigns, iron has successfully been utilized for its even, clear and stable glaze qualities. Red porcelain has always been the most popular since the Chinese consider red an auspicious and precious color.
Reputed as a "manmade gem", color-glazed porcelain looks brilliant and seems to carry many connotations. Thanks to new scientific measures for allotting ingredients and controlling kiln temperatures, craftsmen have not only managed to improve the quality of color glazes and find formulas for different products, but they have also successively created more than 100 glaze colors and several kinds of lusterless colored glazes.
Generally speaking, color-glazed porcelain falls into the following categories: blue, dark reddish, black, white, yellow, green, blue-and-white glazed, and so on, with each color further subcategorized into specific type.
Collectors of different types of color-glazed porcelain should keep one thing in mind: The classification of color glazes cannot be judged based on the color of a glaze surface with the naked eye. For instance, although some blue-and-white glazes produced in kilns in Fujian Province during the Song Dynasty appear to be white, the proportion of different microelements classifies them as white-and-blue glazed porcelain.
Today, Jingdezhen remains a national center for porcelain production. The porcelain culture of Jingdezhen was, is and will be a treasure for the Jingdezhen tourist industry. Each year, hundreds of foreigners travel to Jingdezhen to learn it's unique ceramic-making skills and techniques. They stay in the villages and towns around Jingdezhen for months, some even for years.
The local government has taken measures to promote craftsmen's research in traditional ceramic art innovation. Nowadays, Jingdezhen's ceramic art is renowned worldwide for a vibrant integration of traditional and modern technologies in the ceramics-making process.