Art Collection: Fifteenth Century Blue-And-White Chinese Porcelain

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The Chinese pursuit for evidence of the first usage of cobalt in underglaze-blue ornament on porcelains steers to the Song period (960-1279), particularly the blue-and-white sherds discovered in the foundations of the 977 Jinsha Pagoda in Longquan county, southwestern Zhejiang province, and the 1265 Huancai Pagoda in Shaoxing county, northeast of Zhejiang. These two scant finds continue to be the only known resources for following up on the Song origins. The kilns where they came from continue still to be unlocated, but they’re assumed to have been in Zhejiang.

From the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368), the underglaze-blue ornamentation of porcelains had already achieved a level of maturity at Jingdezhen, in spite of blue-and-white not actually preferred as the prescribed court taste. During that time, the favored objects of the court and the literati-aristocracy were the monochromatic white family of qingbai and shufu wares which reigned in production. These two products and the blue-and-white ware called qinghua are all stylistically interconnected. The qinghua ornamental repertoire had decidedly came forth from that of etched white wares, whose subtly-tinted glazes changed in tone when the glaze gathered up in the recessed decorations, accomplishing softly ascetical and fragile effects. The blunt painted blue decorations, by contrast, must have looked as boldly vulgar but refreshingly avant-garde.

Apart from the objects regained from the excavations of tombs, graves and residences, the most crucial Yuan blue-and-white porcelains encountered are the clear-layered sherds unearthed in 1973 at the Hutian kiln site, just about six kilometres by the town of Jingdezhen. Hutian, obviously among the oldest kilns within the Jingdezhen complex, had been engaging as a flourishing porcelain centre since early Song times. Additionally, it was laid down that from the set Song qingbai tradition, finer qingbai and shufu and innovatively-decorated qinghua pieces were being designed during the Yuan dynasty. Moreover, the pattern of underglaze pigments for ornamentation had been determined by the Jizhou potters of Jiangxi province, from south of Jingdezhen, but the highly original Jingde potters had decided to adorn with, and build up their design idioms in, copper-oxides and cobalt-oxides instead of iron-oxides, which was the Jizhou potters’ favoured medium.

The blue-and-white porcelains of the Yuan dynasty Jingde could be handily classified into three groups: (1) those which are quickly painted on rough-formed vessels (ordinarily mass-produced from moulds) and generally of a small size; (2) those with tough well-shaped forms, delicately painted and generally of a larger size; (3) those evidently earmarked for upper-class domestic consumption and comprising of thin-walled porcelains with fragile, extremely refined painting represented by a series of stemcups (gaozuwan) found from dated tombs and graves. The first 2 groups were extensively exported, the former particularly to the Near East and the latter to Southeast Asia. The cobalt was imported for these Jingde wares from the Middle East by Arab traders and Chinese Muslims.

References:

Chinese porcelain by Bertram S. Boggis, 1958

Arts of Asia, Volume 31, 2001

Chinese Pottery and Porcelain, by Zhiyan Li and Wen Cheng

Copyright © 2011 Athena Goodlight

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