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Chinese Painted Pottery


Large quantities of painted potteries were discovered in many cultural relics of the Neolithic Age, such as the famous cultural relics of Ho-mu-tu, Yang Shao, Ta-wen-kou and Hung-shan. Painted potteries made in different periods present different features.

Painted pottery of the Yangshao culture is recognized as the most representative of the prehistory painted pottery found in China.

Back in 1921, ruins of a primitive village were found at Yangshao Village, Mianchi County, Henan Province, which were to be identified as belonging to a highly developed matriarchal society existed in central China. Many cultural relics have been unearthed from the site since then. Included are pottery utensils for daily use, which are valued not only for their cultural importance but also for the workmanship with which they were produced.

The Yangshao culture dates back to a period from 5,000 years BC to 3,000 years BC. Primitive sites and ruins found later in other parts of central China are culturally similar to the Yangshao ruins. For that, the Yangshao culture has been recognized as synonym of the culture prevalent in central China during the matriarchal clan society - in a region with Gansu, Shaanxi and Henan as center while encompassing Hebei, Inner Mongolia, Shanxi, Qinghai, as well as parts of Hubei.

Most painted pottery in China was made some 3000 to 5000 years ago in the Yellow River Valley in Southwest Qinghai, Gansu and Shaanxi provinces and northern Henan Province. The classic one is Human Face and Fish Body Design Colored Pottery Basin, which was made in the Neolithic age (5000 to 10000 years ago) and unearthed in the 1950s in Banpo Village in Xi'an of Shaanxi Province. 
The basin, 16.5 cm in height with a diameter of 38.5 cm, is made of fine-mud red ceramics and has a design of a human face holding fish at the corners of mouth. It is uniformly red in color and decorated with black pigment. At that time, the Banpo people had their potteries simply decorated, the most striking are the designs of fish that can be seen everywhere. The fish was finished in symbolic pattern. It is concluded that fish should be the totem of ancient Banpo people.

The primitive artists of Banpo Village began using pictorial designs for decorative purposes and express abstract thoughts. For example, they divided the design of a fish into head, body and fins, alternating straight lines with curves, triangles and circles. This innovation was a significant step in the development of Chinese painting. On a painted pottery basin from Banpo Village, for instance, we see the design of a human face with a fish's body. According to archeologists, these patterns may have been used for decorating the utensils; but they may also have been used for sacrificial rites in the spring season to pray for a good harvest. If that were true, the Banpo pottery designs might be the earliest religious artwork in art history.

Painted potteries made at early stage are featured by a reddish-brown broad band line painted along the external rim of the vessel’s opening. Such primitive wizard-suggesting phenomenon is commonly seen in painted potteries made in early periods in many regions in China. In contrast, painted potteries made in middle and late periods are characterized by decorative patterns, rather than totem-related ones. At the same time, the purpose of painted potteries has converted from wizardry to appreciation.

Painted potteries have three main colors: reddish brown, black and white. Reddish brown pigment is made from ochre, and the principal coloring elements of black pigment are iron and manganese. It is conferred that iron was extracted from laterite with high iron content, while white pigment was extracted from porcelain clay. Painted potteries with the richest colors (made in approx. 2500-1800 BC) ever been discovered are those unearthed from the Taosilong Mountain Cultural Relics in Xiangfen, Shanxi Province. All clay basins, pots, kettles, bottles and trays have black or red thin coating on ceramics, and were usually painted in red, yellow and white (with black ground) after firing.


The main sculpts of pottery there are burners, pots, jars and bowls. Among them the main types of ceramic burners there are Ge style burner, Boshan burner, smoke burner and so on; the main types of ceramic pots there are saliva pot, cock head pot, dish mouth pot and so on; the main types of ceramic jars there are four tied jar, small jars with bubbled abdomens, "Tian" word shape jars and small mouthed jars with break shoulders and so on; and the main types of ceramic bowls there are high foot bowls, palace bowls, bamboo hat bowls, lying foot bowls and so on.

Painted pottery age in China came to an end in the Shang-Zhou Period (the Bronze Age). Around two thousand years prior to and after the Bronze Age, painted pottery was evolved into colored painted pottery which was made by directly painting vessel surface with glue pigment. With the popularization of lacquer and unglazed porcelain, craftwork of colored painted pottery declined rapidly after prevailing in China for approximately 5000 years.

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