Chinese Porcelain The History & Art

Chinese Porcelain history KBantiques

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 Chinese use the word ci to mean either porcelain or stoneware, not distinguishing between the two. In the West, porcelain usually refers to high-fired (about 1300º) white ceramics, whose bodies are translucent and make a ringing sound when struck. Stoneware is a tougher, non-translucent material, fired to a lower temperature (1100-1250º).
A number of white ceramics were made in China, several of which might be termed porcelain. The northern porcelains, such as Ding ware, were made predominantly of clay rich in kaolin. In southern China, porcelain stone was the main material. At the imperial kilns at Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province, kaolin was added to porcelain stone; in Fujian province, on the coast and east of Jiangxi, porcelain stone was used alone. The results differed in that northern porcelains were more dense and compact, while southern porcelains were more glassy and "sugary."
Ceramics may be fired in oxidizing or reducing conditions (increasing or restricting the amount of oxygen during the process). Northern porcelains were usually fired in oxidation, which results in warm, ivory-colored glazes. Southern wares were fired in reduction, producing a cool, bluish tinge. An exception to this was blanc de Chine, or Dehua ware, from Fujian province, whose warm ivory hue came from oxidizing firings.
antique Chinese porcelain for sale kbantiques

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.


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