Friday, October 3, 2008

Blanc de Chine

Blanc de Chine is a type of white Chinese porcelain, made at Dehua in the Fujian province. It has been produced from the Ming Dynasty to the present day. Large quantities arrived in Europe as Chinese Export Porcelain in the early 18th century and it was copied at Meissen and elsewhere.

The area along the Fujian coast was traditionally one of the main ceramic exporting centers. Over one-hundred and eighty kiln sites have been identified extending in historical range from the Song period to present. The two principal kiln sites were those of Qudougong 屈斗宫 and Wanpinglun 碗坪仑. The Wanpinglun site is the older of the two and manufactured pressed wares and others.
The kilns of Dehua also produced other ceramic wares, including some with under glaze blue decoration.

From the Ming period porcelain objects were manufactured that achieved a fusion of glaze and body traditionally referred to as "ivory white" and "milk white." The special characteristic of Dehua porcelain is the very small amount of iron oxide in it, allowing it to be fired in an oxidising atmosphere to a warm white or pale ivory color. This color makes it instantly recognizable and quite different from the porcelain from the Imperial kilns of Jingdezhen, which contains more iron and has to be fired in reduction if it is not to appear an unpleasant straw color.

The porcelain body is not very plastic but vessel forms have been made from it. Donnelly, lists the following types of product: figures, boxes, vases and jars, cups and bowls, fishes, lamps, cup-stands, censers and flowerpots, animals, brush holders, wine and teapots, Buddhist and Taoist figures, secular figures and puppets. There was a large output of figures, especially religious figures, e.g. Guanyin, Maitreya, and Ta-mo figures. Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy, was particularly revered in Fujian and there exist innumerable figures of her. Donnelly says, “There is no doubt that figures constitute the great glory of ''blanc de Chine''.” Some have been produced with little modification from the late 16th or early 17th century . Crisply modeled figures with a smooth white glaze were popular as were joss-stick holders, brush pots, ''Dogs of Fo'', libation and boxes.

The devotional objects produced at Dehua “conformed to the official stipulations of the early Ming period, not only in their whiteness but also in imitating the shape of archaic ritual objects”. They were probably used in the domestic shrines that every Chinese home possessed. However, one Confucian polemicist, Wen Zhenheng , specifically forbade the use of Dehua wares for religious purposes, presumably for their lack of antiquity: “Among the censers the use of which should be specifically forbidden are those recently made in the kilns of Fujian .”

The numerous Dehua porcelain factories today make figures and tableware in modern styles. During the Cultural Revolution “Dehua artisans applied their very best skills to produce immaculate statuettes of the Great Leader and the heroes of the revolution. Portraits of the stars of the new proletarian opera in their most famous roles were produced on a truly massive scale.” Mao figures later fell out of favor but have been revived for foreign collectors.

Precise dating of ''blanc de Chine'' of the Ming and Qing dynasties is often difficult because the conservatism of the Dehua potters led them to produce similar pieces for decades or even for centuries. There are ''blanc de Chine'' figures being made in Dehua today little different from those made in the Ming dynasty.

Notable artists in ''blanc de Chine'', such as the late Ming period He Chaozong, signed their creations with their seals. Wares include crisply modeled figures, , bowls and joss stick-holders.

Many of the best examples of ''blanc de Chine'' are found in Japan where they are used in family altars and other funerary and religious uses. Dehua white porcelain in Japan is a separate subject in itself. In Japan the white variety was termed ''hakugorai'' or "Korean white", a term often found in tea ceremony circles. The British Museum in London has a large number of ''blanc de Chine'' pieces, having received as a gift in 1980 the entire collection of P.J.Donnelly.

Yingqing ware

Yingqing ware is porcelain, primarily from the Song Dynasty, made in the vicinity of Jingdezhen in Jiangxi, and also in Hebei. It is known as the first porcelain to be produced in quantity.

It is identified by its distinctive blue-tinted glaze over a white porcelain body. Early production imitated northern white wares in shape and decoration such as Ding wares produced in Hebei province; however, firing in reduction produces the blue tint, as opposed to the more opaque white of the Ding wares. Decoration usually features incised lines in which the glaze pools, or a limited amount of moulding.

Tiger Cave Kiln

Recent excavations at the Tiger Cave Kiln at Hangzhou in the province of Zhejiang have helped to identify one site of origin of the important ceramic wares of the Southern Song Dynasty known as ''Guan'' or ''Official'' wares, which were made for the exclusive use of the imperial court.


In 1127 AD, under pressure from invading , the court was driven south of the Yellow River and in 1138 AD established a new capital at Hangzhou, in the province of Zhejiang .

The move to the south resulted in the abandonment of kilns used to make ceramic wares for the northern court, but by 1149 AD two new kilns had been built at Hangzhou to make porcelain for the newly-established Southern Song court ; the first kiln under the control of the ''Xiuneisi'' and the second near to the ''Jiaotanxia'' .

The location of the ''Jiaotanxia'' kiln was finally established by excavations carried out between 1984 and 1986; but the location of the ''Xiuneisi'' kiln remained unknown until excavations started in 1998 at the Tiger Cave kiln site provided confirmation that this was the hitherto unidentified ''Xiuneisi'' kiln .

Excavations at the site

From 1998 to 2001 the Hangzhou Hangzhou Archaeological Institute of Cultural Relics excavated the Laohudong Kiln . The results have rewritten Chinese ceramic history and solved mysteries that have haunted the field for literally hundreds of years. Excavated fall within the historical range of the to the . The Southern Song celadon sherds show clearly that the Tiger cave Kiln was the ceramic production site for Southern Song official ware . Tiger Cave is a seven hundred meter area located between Phoenix Mountain and Nine Flowers Mountain. The site is not more than a hundred meters from the north wall area of the Southern Song Imperial City area. Likewise it is two and a half miles from another Song production area known as the Jiaotan Official Ware Kiln . The discovery of the Kiln site took place in 1996 after an extensive archeological search of the area. Southern Song shards display shapes that correspond to ritual vessels such as celadon vases and incense burners. Clearly the original objects were intended for palace use. The shards are primarily of a powder blue color. Next in number are those of a honey tint. The celadon shards display a rich thick glaze with prominent crackle and crazing. Clearly the kiln site is the long lost Official Ceramic Ware site referred to in historical texts as the Xiuneisi Official Ware Kiln . The Mongol Period strata of the archaeological site perhaps solves another long standing ceramic history mystery i.e. that of the Ge Kiln ceramic ware. After the fall of the Southern Song court and the unification of the Chinese nation under Mongol rule the Tiger Kiln maintained production. A portion of the ceramic production of this period continued to be celadon ware in the official ware style. This conforms to period historical references.

The Tiger Cave Kiln and other associated ceramic ware sites have come under the control of Hangzhou Southern Song Guan Kiln Museum located in the west area of Turtle Hill of Yuhuang Mountain in Hangzhou, providing a detailed appreciation of the history and aesthetics of some of China's most celebrated ceramics.

Southern Song ''guan'' wares

Southern Song ''guan'' wares are rare and public domain pictures of them are difficult to find. The Percival David Foundation in London has in its collection a number of pieces that some scholars believe were made at the Xiuneisi kiln; a kiln which has now been identified as the Laohudong kiln. The links below point to two such specimens.

This picture shows a Southern Song ''guan'' ware lobed dish, described as having a fine, dark stoneware body and a thick, clear, blue-grey crackled glaze.

This picture shows a Southern Song ''guan'' ware pear-shaped vase, described as having a thick, clear, soft blue glaze with widely-spaced crackles, stained golden-brown probably by the body material to which the glaze was applied. The foot-rim and the mouth-rim are bound with bands of copper and as a result the unglazed parts of the body are not visible. The vase is from the imperial collection and is "felt by many scholars to represent perfection among ''guan'' wares".

Source for this Section .



Tenkei blue-and-white ware

Tenkei blue-and-white ware refers to Chinese underglaze blue porcelain made in the unofficial kilns of Jingdezhen for a largely Japanese market in the 17th century. Tenkei in Japanese indicates the reign of the Chinese Tianqi Emperor from 1621-1628. Generally speaking Tenkei blue-and white ware was one variety of porcelain among various styles of the Jingdezhen unofficial kilns from a time of production breakdown of the official kilns at the death of the Wanli Emperor in 1620 to a time of reorganization during the reign of Emperor Kangxi in 1683. The Tenkei ware, and other associated wares, display a refreshing spontaneity of design that makes them unique in Chinese ceramic history. The influence of the master landscape artist Dong Qichang can be discerned in the use of a dark and light color contrast. Designs for this ware are usually landscapes, birds and flowers, animals and human figures. Sizes are usually small to mid-size flatware and bowls. Many examples of the ware were treasured in Japan as part of the tea ceremony culture. Many examples of this ware show an unmistakable Japanese influence and it is thought that they were especially ordered from Japan by period tea masters. This ware is also known in Japan as ''ko sometsuke'' or “old blue-and white.” Base inscriptions are usually those from previous reigns in the dynasty with a preference for the Chenghua reign mark.

Single-fire process

The single-fire process was created by ceramists during the earliest decades of the Qing Dynasty dubious)) . The Qing Dynasty is generally divided into three distinct periods: Kangxi ; Yongzheng ; and Qianglong . The peace and propsperity which characterized much of the Qing dynasty allowed for a tremendous flowering of the arts and culture. There was strong imperial support for all manner of Chinese artists, artisans and craftspeople.

Shiwan Ware

Shiwan Ware was from kilns located in the Guangdong provincial city of Foshan. Area ceramic production experienced a long history by the late Ming period 1500s when ceramic artisans from perhaps Dehua and Jingdezhen relocated to the Shiwan area and expanded local production into a vigorous export related industry. Shiwan wares provide a contrast with more conservatively rendered Dehua efforts. Clay for the ware was provided not only from area preserves, but also from distant locations that could be variously mixed to provide a variety of textures and desired ceramic outcomes. The range could extend from a porcelain, that could rival Dehua in purity, to a rough stoneware. Shiwan ware was widely exported. Its glazing techniques directly influenced Japanese Shiga wares and others.



*Shanghai Peoples' Art Museum, ''Sekiwan yo'' , Chinese Ceramic Library, vol. 24, Tokyo, 1982.

Porcelain Tower of Nanjing

The Porcelain Tower of Nanjing , also known as Bao'ensi , is a historical archaeological site located on the south bank of the in Nanjing, China. It was constructed in the 15th century as a pagoda, but was mostly destroyed in the 19th century during the course of the Taiping rebellion. However, the tower is now under reconstruction once again.


The tower was octagonal with a base of about 97 ft in diameter. When it was built, the tower was one of the largest buildings in China, rising up to a height of 260 feet with nine stories and a staircase in the middle of the pagoda, which spiraled upwards for 130 steps. The top of the roof was marked by a golden sphere. There were originally plans to add more stories, according to an American missionary who in 1852 visited Nanjing. There are only a few Chinese pagodas that surpass its height, such as the still existent 275 ft tall 11th century Liaodi Pagoda in Hebei or the non-existent 330 ft tall 7th century wooden pagoda of Chang'an.

The tower was built with white porcelain bricks that were said to reflect the sun's rays during the day, and at night as many as 140 lamps were hung from the building to illuminate the tower. Glazes and stoneware were worked into the porcelain and created a mixture of green, yellow, brown and white designs on the sides of the tower, including animals, flowers and landscapes. The tower was also decorated with numerous Buddhist images.


The Porcelain Tower of Nanjing was designed by the Chinese Emperor shortly before its construction, in the early 15th century. It was first discovered by the Western world when European travelers visited it, sometimes listing it as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. After this exposure to the outside world, the tower was seen as a national treasure to both locals and other cultures around the world.

In 1801 a bolt of lightning struck and knocked off the top three stories of the tower, but it was soon restored. The 1843 book ''The Closing Events of the Campaign in China'' by Granville Gower Loch contains a detailed description of the tower as it existed in the early 1840s. In the 1850s the area surrounding the tower erupted in civil war as the Taiping Rebellion reached Nanjing and the Taiping Rebels took over the city. They smashed the Buddhist images and destroyed the inner staircase to deny the Qing enemy an observation platform. American sailors reached the city in May 1854 and visited the hollowed tower. In 1856 the Taiping destroyed the tower in order to prevent a hostile faction from using it to observe and shell the city. After this point, the tower's remnants were forgotten and it lay dormant until a recent surge to try and rebuild the landmark.