Chinese Porcelain The History & Art
Porcelain was first produced in China around 600 C.E. The skillful transformation of ordinary clay into beautiful objects has captivated the imagination of people throughout history and across the globe. Chinese ceramics, by far the most advanced in the world, were made for the imperial court, the domestic market, or for export.
What is porcelain?
The ancient history of any country can often be read in the antique pottery shards unearthed by eager archaeologists and deciphered by anthropologists. With the early invention of durable porcelain, China has a robust pottery-powered story right down through the centuries of its dynamic history.
There is some disagreement about exactly when porcelain was first made in China, but the earliest piece of the smooth and impervious pottery made with kaolin clay, sometimes referred to as "primitive porcelain", was found to have come from the Shang Dynasty (about 1600 - 1046 BCE). However, clear evidence shows that there was porcelain pottery being made during the Eastern Han Dynasty (25 - 220 CE).
In the early stages, when the effect of high temperatures on pottery was discovered, this was merely useful to the common people as it produced wares that were impervious to water, unlike the standard earthenware. Soon kilns were constructed, and an industry developed. During the Han Dynasty, the Yue kiln of Shangyu in Zhejiang, south of the Yangtse River, was producing what is known as 'celadon' ware, a greenish colored porcelain. Pieces of this early porcelain have been found, now 2,000 years old but still translucent with bright colors. In Zhejiang, beautiful glossy black porcelain was being created in the De kiln.
Broadly speaking, blue-and-white refers to ceramics decorated with cobalt blue pigment on a white body, usually applied with a brush under the glaze. First appearing in the Tang dynasty (618 – 906), early blue-and-white ceramics were made with a coarse, greyish body. In the Yuan dynasty (1279 –1368), potters at Jingdezhen in Jiangxi province, a famous China porcelain town, refined clay recipes by adding kaolin clay, and developed firing technology. The craftsmanship of blue-and-white porcelain improved significantly, with products featuring vibrant blue colours using cobalt pigment produced in Yunnan province or imported from the Middle East.