By SONG XIAOYAN
By SONG XIAOYAN
THERE is a saying about the history of Chinese porcelain. It goes that half of the history of Chinese porcelain is about the porcelain wares produced in Zhejiang Province, and half of the history of the Zhejiang porcelain is about the celadon wares produced in Longquan City. Longquan celadon, a type of greenish or grayish blue ceramic, is exceptionally amazing with its enchanting glazing color and exquisite craftsmanship, having enamored collectors for thousands of years.
The Longquan kiln is one of the six famous kiln clusters of the Song Dynasty (960-1279). It was named so because the famous celadon wares are produced in the Longquan City of Zhejiang Province. The Longquan celadon first appeared during the Three Kingdoms (220-280) and Jin Dynasty (265-420), and achieved its zenith in the middle and later period of Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279). Its craftsmanship has aggregated the achievements of traditional Chinese porcelain making. Its elegant styles and glazing color make it a paradigm of the Song ceramic wares.
The most striking feature of the Longquan celadon is its greenish or grayish blue glaze, which resembles the quality of jade. The body of Longquan celadon is rough and heavy, and the wall is relatively thick. The glaze is relatively thin, in a range of colors, such as plum green, pink blue, pea green, and crab-shell blue. Generations of Longquan celadon makers spared no effort to make the glaze as perfect as jade. Many celadon wares produced in famous kilns have been lauded by famous scholars and men of letters. However, only the Longquan celadon wares with plum green and pink blue glaze can be compared with the quality of jade. They both feature thick and opaque glaze, which give a lustrous and gentle effect.
Longquan celadon pomegranate-shaped Zun (a wine vessel) with incised flowers pattern from the Ming Dynasty
Housed in the Palace Museum in Beijing, this piece has an interlocking branch pattern on the opening area and a circle of tiny dots around the mouth. There is a protruding ring around the neck of the vessel, above the ring there is an interlocking flower pattern and under the ring is an interlocking clouds pattern. The Zun features vivid incised designs, jade-like surface, and elegant style, making it a treasure of Ming Dynasty Longquan celadon.
The Longquan celadon features multiple layers of glaze, which means the potters re-glaze the ware body for at least over 10 rounds, to make the glaze thick, which is even thicker than that of the body to create the jade-like gloss. Sometimes, the potters intentionally make some relief ridges on the body, so the glaze on the ridges will be thinner, forming a blue-vein-like line as a decoration. Also the bottom of the Longquan celadon appears the color of reddish brown due to the secondary oxidation in the firing process.
Longquan celadon plate with incised grapes pattern from the Ming Dynasty
Housed in the Palace Museum in Beijing, this blue-glazed plate has interlocking bamboo stems and lingzhi mushroom pattern along the inner wall and grapes pattern in the center of the plate. On the outside of its bottom is a ring-shaped mark, indicating the holder on which it stood during the burning process. This item is big and the shape is regular, with jade-like glaze. It is a representative work of Longquan celadon wares of the early Ming Dynasty.
Although the Longquan celadon bears multiple layers of glaze, its glaze doesn’t appear heavy and indistinct, but as clear as the surface of a lake. The glaze materials which contain iron, and local special clay which is used for making the body and firewood which is used for firing, combine to give the Longquan celadon its unique charm.
Longquan celadon vase
Housed in Anhui Museum, the body of the vase is white and glaze is opaque. With jade-like glaze, the vase has a banana leaf pattern on its neck, interlocking peony and petals of lotus pattern on its belly. It features an elegant and solemn style and exquisite incised design. It is a treasure of Longquan celadon.
Besides the jade-like glazing color, the Longquan celadon also features exquisite decorations. The Longquan celadon include wares such as bowls, plates, basins, saucers, cups, pots, tins, tea sets, watering cans, brush pots, and vases. Most celadon wares feature a heavy and compact body, on which there are incised decorations of various patterns. In addition, the potters make crazing patterns themselves, adding brilliance to the wares’ present splendor. As a type of very fine porcelain in the Chinese porcelain history, the Longquan celadon has been adored by porcelain lovers around the world. The craftsmanship of making Longquan celadon has been passed down through generations. Why are people so obsessed with the Longquan celadon? The reason is closely related to the Chinese people’s aesthetic preferences and the traditional Chinese culture. The color of the glaze resembles that of jade. In ancient China, people often use jade as a metaphor for good virtues. The glaze of Longquan celadon symbolizes good virtues that the Chinese people have been cherishing and pursuing, and its color is low-profile, with a jade-like gloss, corresponding to most Chinese people’s character — most Chinese are introverted.
The Longquan celadon has been popular in both China and the world. Today, the Longquan celadon wares are often seen in famous museums around the world. Actually there is a story about its English name as celadon. L’Astrée, a novel by French writer Honoré d’Urfé, was adapted for theater, which turned out to be a great hit. Celadon, the hero in the play, wore a beautiful blue cloak, which became fashionable at that time in Paris. During the same period, the Longquan porcelain was quite popular among upper classes in France. As the porcelain’s color looks similar to Celadon’s cloak, people name it as Longquan celadon, and the term has been widely adopted around Europe.
Due to the increasing popularity of the Longquan celadon, kilns for making Longquan celadon wares were also established in Jiangxi and Fujian provinces, forming a large Longquan kiln cluster. As representative works of Chinese porcelain, the Longquan celadon wares have been exhibited around the world, allowing people outside China to appreciate the exquisite artwork of the ancient Chinese civilization. In modern days, the Longquan celadon, with its jade-like beauty and delicate craftsmanship, enriches the treasury of arts of the world.
SONG XIAOYAN is a course planner of antique chinaware at the Ancient Porcelain Countyard Museum.