Asia Week 2014: Early Chinese Ceramics

Exhibition dates are March 14 to
March 22, 2013

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This exhibition represents the evolution of green-glazed stoneware: from the Warring States to the famed celadon pieces of the Song dynasty. This collection was put together in the 1990s by a passionate and scholarly collector living in Southeast Asia at the time.

The name Celadon was first used in the 19th century by Salvetat and Le Blant in reference to the grey green or blue green ceramic ware of China. The poet Xu Yin, from the 9th and 10th centuries, refers to celadon as mise or “secret color” ware, describing its elusive quality that can simultaneously appear as either hard, brittle ice, soft misty clouds, or even as luminous as the moon. Some scholars have likened celadon as a sophisticated and translucent green glaze that alludes to the texture and color of jade. Jade, which from remotest antiquity has been considered the most precious of stones, associated with the essential elements of nature and the legitimacy of kings and emperors, and thus celadon evokes the beauty and virtue associated with jade.

The earliest kiln sites known to have produced glazed stoneware have been found in Jiangxi, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang provinces. The first glazes appear to have developed by accident. In wood-fired kilns, wood ash floats freely through the kiln chamber, settling on the inner kiln walls and on the surfaces of the objects being fired. At temperatures above 1170 F˚ the white-hot ash reacts with the stoneware surface to produce a glaze. During the Han dynasty vessels were dusted with wood ash to exploit this phenomenon, but although the resulting glaze was satisfactory, its application could not be controlled. By the time of the Three Kingdoms a celadon-like glaze, probably made from a mixture of wood ash and clay, had been developed at the Yue kilns. This fired well to the body and covered the surfaces evenly.

During the Southern Song dynasty, the reestablishment of the capital at Hangzhou brought a more sophisticated and wealthier clientele in proximity to the kilns in Zhejiang. By the Northern Song period, the Yue kilns had declined in number, due to competition from both kilns in the North and from new kilns established in the southern part of Zhejiang in the area of Longquanxian. These Longquan kilns had richer deposits of clay, timber for fuel, an abundant water supply, and mountain slopes for building the climbing kilns. Thus, this collection includes a few typical types of Longquan wares that are used in everyday life.

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