Oriental Pottery And Porcelain - China - Part 1

Many people talk about, and others wonder about, the dynasties and emperors of old China. It is as well, therefore, to preface this section with a list of those most likely to be of use:


  • Chou - About 1122 to 249 B.C.
  • Han - 206 B.C. to A.D. 220
  • T'ang - 618 to A.D. 906
  • Sung - 960 to 1279
  • Ming - 1368 to 1644
  • Ch'ing - 1644 to 1912

  • Hsuan Te - 1426 to 1435
  • Ch'engHua - 1465 to 1487
  • Wan Li - 1573 to 1619
  • K'ang Hsi - 1662 to 1722
  • Yung Cheng - 1723 to 1735
  • Ch'ienLung - 1736 to 1795
  • Chia Ch'ing - 1796 to 1820
  • TaoKuang - 1821 to 1850

From before 200 B.C. little pottery has survived. The custom of burying pottery vessels and figures with the body of a dead person, and the reopening of undisturbed tombs, has enabled students to gain an idea of the wares of the Han dynasty. These mortuary pieces show that a green glaze containing lead was commonly in use, and that decoration, where present, consisted of painting in unfixed colours, or of attractive incised patterns. It is argued that the tomb wares, intended for the use of the deceased in a future life, were made perfunctorily, and that the hitherto-unidentified domestic pieces must have been of better workmanship and of a higher artistic quality. Then followed a gap of four centuries during which no appreciable advances were made, but the years lost in strife and artistic stagnation were amply made up for by the brilliance of the Tang dynasty. The large tomb figures of horses and camels, splashed with glazes of orange-brown and green, are among the best- known objects made at the time. Time and interment have given the glaze a silvery iridescence that lends an added attraction. Dishes and other pieces of the period are less familiar to many, but are artistically important in many instances. Stoneware was brought a stage further forward by giving it a white body, and the pieces known as Yueh (abbreviated from Yueh Chou, a district in Chekiang province where they were made) with their fine celadon glaze, were produced.

In the succeeding Sung dynasty, many further styles were introduced and older ones developed. Carved and incised designs are found, and pale-coloured glazes of great beauty were used alongside the popular celadon green which is found on pieces exported to the Near East countries. All these delicately modelled and coloured wares were copied in later Ming times, but apart from differences in finishing, the early pieces were made of a stoneware and the later of true porcelain. The coming of the Ming dynasty saw the emergence of Ching-te-chen, to the south-west of Nankin, as a centre of manufacture. Here, in the fourteenth century, was organized the series of factories making the porcelain that spread the fame of China throughout the civilized world. The rare pieces decorated in underglaze blue of the reigns of Hsuan Te and Ch'eng Hua are the forerunners of the vast quantities later made for export to the West, and of which examples are still relatively commonplace. Another esteemed type are the 'three-colour' wares, usually in the form of vases, with the design outlined in raised threads of clay and filled with coloured glazes. These latter date from the reign of Wan Li, when the combination of underglaze blue, and overglaze red, yellow, green and aubergine (brown-purple) was used with effect; a style that led to the well- known famille verte of the reign of K'ang Hsi.

A smaller factory at Te-hua, in the south of China, was producing the fine white ware, known as blanc-de-chine (Chinese white), which it continued to copy continually in succeeding centuries. By this date, about 1600, exportation to Europe was beginning to take place, although 'blue and white' (or Nankin, as it is often called) probably formed the bulk. It was towards the end of the seventeenth century, in the reign of the emperor K'ang Hsi, that this export trade assumed enormous proportions and the types of porcelain with which Europeans are familiar were made in quantity. The most popular is the so-called famille verte (green family) with its predominating bright greens and red. All manner of articles were decorated in this style, from sets of vases to figures of goddesses.

Large vases were sometimes painted in other colour-combinations: familie jaune and famille noire, in which the ground colour was yellow and black respectively. Examples of these were never numerous, and are now extremely rare. The single-colour (monochrome) glazes and enamels produced in the Ming dynasty were not only copied, but extended in range during the eighteenth century. A variety of reds and browns was developed, and some of these were controlled skillfully in the kiln to produce unusual effects. Other colours, including yellows and greens, were devised, and a rich ruby red was used sometimes on a class of wares made for export. It occurs on the backs of thin 'eggshell' plates of the Yung Cheng period, and as a ground colour on vases and dishes of the same date. A further innovation in combination with panels of famille verte was the appropriately named 'powder-blue'. This was made by blowing powdered cobalt through a gauze screen, the panels being protected by pieces of paper, the resulting powdered ground vibrating with colour under the smooth glaze in the best examples. Pieces were sometimes enveloped entirely in powder-blue, and decorated over the glaze with designs in the thin and dull gilding used by the Chinese.

Collectable Antiques: