The Silver Age of Blue-And-White Porcelain: Chenghua And Hongzhi Reign

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These two reigns comprise the ‘Silver Age’ of blue-and-white porcelains which, in the assessment of connoisseurs, have only been outperformed by works of the Xuande reign. The Chenghua emperor went up the throne as a child and as a young man showered huge amounts of treasures on his darling concubine, a capricious woman who had an exceptional passion for Jingde porcelain. Her obsessive gathering carried on until her premature death briefly before the death of the young ruler in 1487.

Throughout the Chenghua reign, the Jingde kilns engaged at full capacity while the potters honed their methods. Porcelain bodies had, from that time, become somewhat ivory in colour, more refined and better trimmed down. The deep, clear glaze surfaces are rather smooth as the potters had acquired how to get rid of the undesirable ‘orange-peel’ effect. The blues are clear and without blackish imperfections. The decoration is done in consistent washes’ and carefully drawn outlines. The painting, though less vigorous than that of the Xuande era, has a delicate and feminine tone. The hallmarks of this period are delicacy and refinement, simplicity and pureness, exceedingly careful potting and artful pattern. The Asian Art Museum, possess examples that in all likelihood date from that period. The supposition that these objects are from the Chenghua era is backed up by the distinguished porcelain authority Daisy Lion-Goldschmidt of the Musee Guimet. In her widely referred text Ming Porcelains, she points out on the illustrated zhuge bowl:

“Many other pieces can be thus grouped with dating “second half of the fifteenth century”, and a strong presumption that they belong to the Chenghua period. The same qualities of delicacy, softness and fluency are found on the double-walled bowl in the Leventritt Collection in the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco. The decoration evokes a world half drowned in clouds, in which riders approach the pavilion. The subject was to become very popular and we shall often meet it again. Treated here with freedom and humor — note the difficulty the left-handed rider has in controlling his horse — it sketches features of a landscape round the scene of farewell that adorns the inside of the bowl.”

The Hongzhi era blue-and-white porcelains perpetuated the aesthetic virtues of the Chenghua wares. The Hongzhi emperor was the 3rd son of Chenghua, and his rule was peaceful and Confucian in quality. Within the last years of the Chenghua rule, the Jingde kilns which worked at the pleasure of the court were closed down. Private workshops thenceforth filled imperial orders until the craft polices were changed by Hongzhi in 1505.

References:

Chinese Ceramics: a Short History by Masahiko Sato

Retrieving the past: Essays on Archaeological Research by Joe D. Seger and Gus Willard Van Beek

Ming Porcelains: A Retrospective by Suzanne G. Valenstein, China House Gallery, 1971

The Chinese potter: A Practical History of Chinese Ceramics by Margaret Medley

Copyright © 2011 Athena Goodlight

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