Jingdezhen, known as the 'Porcelain Capital' of China, is one of China's most famous cultural and historic cities. It is situated in the northeastern part of Jiangxi Province, East China, a place endowed by nature with a network of rivers and hills.
Ever since the Eastern Jin Dynasty(317-420), under the old names of Xinping and Fuliang, the seat of Jingdezhen was a town. People there began to produce ceramics as early as theFive Dynastiesperiod (907-960). In the Jingde reign (1004-1007) of the Song Dynasty (960-1279), Emperor Zhaoheng decreed to produce the porcelain used by the imperial court. From then on, people began to call this place Jingdezhen (Jingde Town).
The ceramic industry developed over an extended period of time at Jingdezhen. During theTang Dynasty(618-907), the technique started to mature. Jingdezhen became a major porcelain producer during the Song Dynasty (960-1279). The kiln in theYuan Dynasty(1271-1368) boasted the best porcelain-making techniques. Leading to the establishment of the Liangfu porcelain office. Since theMing Dynasty(1368-1644), it has been the center of the ceramic industry. Jingdezhen and three other towns, Zhuxianzhen inHenan Province, Hankouzhen inHubei Provinceand Fushanzhen inGuangdong Province, were listed as the Top Four Towns in China.
In the Ming and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties when pottery skills were perfected and the general quality was more refined; governmental kilns were set up to cater exclusively to the needs of the royal families. During this long period of development, tthe artists and craftsmen in Jingdezhen brought their full talent into play and created numerous masterpieces.
Jingdezhen porcelain has four special features that are commonly described as "white likejade, bright as a mirror, thin aspaper, and sounds like a chime." The elegant form and unique techniques used to make Jingdezhen porcelain have made it a star of Chinese civilization.
"The best porcelain of the world is in China, and the best porcelain in China is from Jingdezhen," the Chinese writer Guo Moruo once said.
The unique porcelain culture of Jingdezhen is created from the abundance of porcelain relics, the valuable porcelain art, the excellent porcelain techniques and the intelligent porcelain artists.
Over the long history of Jingdezhen porcelain, a complete set of traditional porcelain making techniques comprising 72 procedures has been formed, of which, the most unique are the five main ceramics-making phases; biscuit-making, biscuit-trimming, glazing, blue flower-painting and kiln-burning.
The most famous types of porcelain from Jingdezhen are famille-rose porcelain, linglong porcelain, blue-white porcelain and color-glazed porcelain.
1. Famille-rose Porcelain
The famille-rose porcelain is called 'pink enamel'. When making the famille-rose porcelain, craftsmen fire white-colored glass onto plain porcelain, creating patterns withChinese paintingtechniques and then baking it in a kiln.
In the earlyQing Dynasty(1644-1911), there were only a few works of famille-rose porcelain, whose color paintings were also very simple - mainly patterns of flowers, clouds anddragons. During theYongzheng(1723-1735) reign, great improvements were made to the porcelain and the pieces from this period are among the most highly prized works of this type of porcelain.
There was an obvious change in the famille-rose porcelain produced later -- other colors such as green, yellow, blue, carmine or purple, were added to the white porcelain. The ceramic glaze used was not very refined and featured strong hues. In general, the famille-rose porcelain produced in later periods featured comparatively faint hues, and, in order to make the colors more brilliant, gold was applied to the famille-rose base.
The characteristics listed above are the major criteria used to distinguish famille-rose porcelain produced in different periods during the Qing Dynasty.
Famille-rose porcelain wares in the Qing Dynasty mainly included pots, bottles, wine vessels, jars, basins, plates, urns, and boxes. The patterns mostly included dragons and phoenixes, flowers, landscapes, human figures and themes from legends. Subjects painted on the porcelain often came from paintings created by famous artists at that time.
2. Linglong porcelain
Linglong porcelain was created and developed during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Called the "porcelain inlaid with glass," Linglong porcelain is famous both at home and abroad for its exquisitely carved patterns and glittering, translucent appeal.
Grain-sized holes were hollowed out of the thin roughcast and glaze was applied several times to cover them. Then, the half-finished products were baked in kilns to produce the Linglong porcelain.
Characterized by ornaments that pierced through the porcelain, the porcelain saw some developments in terms of technique during the Qing Dynasty. During this period, craftsmen ingeniously integrated the techniques of making blue-and-white porcelain with that of Linglong porcelain to create the blue-and-white Linglong porcelain much loved by the people. The dark-green transparent Linglong designs and emerald-green blue-and-white patterns served as a foil for each other, creating a unique sense of beauty.
Linglong wares were generally limited to small objects, such as cups, brush pots and covered jars. The decoration was sometimes unglazed, left either white or enhanced with gilding or colored glazes.
3. Blue-white Porcelain
Among all porcelain produced in Jingdezhen, the most representative is the blue-white porcelain. Baking the blue-white porcelain originated in theNorthern Song Dynasty(960-1127). During the Yuan and Ming dynasties, the blue-white porcelain became increasingly popular, and since the 14th century, manufacturers have shipped blue-white porcelain to world markets. The porcelain reached its peak during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Its thin, translucent quality and exotic motifs made it very valuable throughout Europe and the colonies, ranking first among blue-white porcelain nationwide.
Blue-white porcelain actually belongs to color-glazed porcelain and the coloring agent used is called cobalt oxide. First, the unbaked mold is coated with cobalt oxide, then a layer of translucent glaze is applied over it and it is baked at 1,300 degrees Celsius. Under the high temperature the cobalt oxide is reduced to a blue hue, which is very bright and durable, creating the blue-white style, also known as "underglazed blue" without using poisonous lead.
A very good mastery of controlling temperature changes and content composition are required to create the porcelain. The blue-white porcelain is the most famous among the four traditional types of porcelain produced in Jiangdezhen, and is renowned as the "ever-lasting blue flower."
4. Color-glazed porcelain
Color-glazed porcelain was one of Jingdezhen's major products during the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. It was colored using both high-temperature and low-temperature glazes, with copper, iron, or gold as the coloring agent. From the time of the Yongzheng andQianlongreigns, iron has successfully been utilized for its even, clear and stable glaze qualities.
Reputed as a "manmade gem", color-glazed porcelain looks brilliant and seems to carry many connotations. Thanks to new scientific measures for allotting ingredients and controlling kiln temperatures, craftsmen have not only managed to improve the quality of color glazes and find formulas for different products, but they have also successively created more than 100 glaze colors and several kinds of lusterless colored glazes.
Generally speaking, color-glazed porcelain falls into the following categories: blue, dark reddish, black, white, yellow, green and blue-and-white glazed, with each color further subcategorized into a specific type.
Today, Jingdezhen remains a national center for porcelain production. The porcelain culture of Jingdezhen was, is and will be a treasure for the Jingdezhen tourist industry. Each year, hundreds of foreigners travel to Jingdezhen to learn it's unique ceramic-making skills and techniques. They stay in the villages and towns around Jingdezhen for months, some even for years.
The local government has taken measures to promote craftsmen's research in traditional ceramic art innovation. Nowadays, Jingdezhen's ceramic art is renowned worldwide for a vibrant integration of traditional and modern technologies in the ceramics-making process.
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