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Ming Dynasty

With the Ming period, during which all the arts were encouraged and flourished, we mark a notable advance, for painted decoration in color, both monochrome , and polychrome, now appears with its manifold fascination, whereas formerly colored glazes had supplied the sole chromatic resource.

However admirable and praiseworthy may have been the previous achievements in the making of porcelain, it is with the coming of the Ming dynasty that we enter upon the "first really great period of Chinese porcelain." With the exception of the Tehua factory in the province of Fuchien, whose ware will by-and-by receive specific notice, the manufacture of porcelain was now concentrated at Ching-te Chen, all the other Sung factories having either wholly disappeared or sunk into utter insignificance during the troublous times of the Mongol domination. As a matter of fact, Ching-te Chen became the Imperial manufactory, directly under the control and constant supervision of State officials, and it enjoyed generous Imperial patronage throughout the ensuing centuries.

This concentration of the resources and the talent of all the most skillful potters, together with the support of keenly interested and appreciative rulers, naturally conduced to developments undreamed of before. Earlier experience was treasured and the best of the preceding wares were reproduced, while new technical methods were devised and new forms of decoration were evolved.

Nearly all the fine Chinese porcelains, from the beginning of the Ming period onward, with which we are familiar in Europe and America have come from the kilns of Ching-te Chen at one stage or another of its remarkable career, although in some instances the articles made there were decorated at other places, such as Nankin, before being exported to the china-loving West. The only significant exceptions are the "white wares", of Fuchien, for in some way the factory at Tehua managed to retain its identity and independent existence despite the centralisation of all other efforts at Ching-te Chen.

The first advance in colour decoration was to fashion the design with the different members of the pattern isolated by raised lines in the body. The spaces within these lines were then filled with glazes of different colours. The process seems to have been suggested by the method used for executing designs in cloisonne enamel. Pieces of this sort, attributed to the beginning of the Ming period, are heavy and oftentimes clumsy both in shape and material. The raised lines, defining the different portions of the pattern, are left unglazed and virtually silhouette the figures; the ornament usually consists of diaper patterns, flowers, animals or human figures, boldly drawn and rather crudely, while the glazes used are generally of three colors-ochre yellow, turquoise blue and purple, although an opaque white glaze is sometimes employed also. Contrary to the usual Chinese practice, pieces of this sort appear to have been first fired to a biscuit stage and then decorated with the coloured glazes afterwards, the second firing for the glazes being at a much lower temperature than the first.

The very thin, delicate and translucent white porcelain, developed and refined under the Mongol dynasty from the Ting yao of the Sung period, also was further elaborated in its refinement until the so-called "bodiless" porcelain was produced. This fragile triumph of the potter's daring, patience and adroitness is commonly known as "egg-shell" porcelain and has been made, practically without interruption from the reign of Yung Lo, 1403-1424. In the finest specimens of this sort of porcelain the substance of the body or paste is so thin that it seems as though there could be no clay left between the inner and outer layers of glaze.

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