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The Sung Dynasty



Burton summarises the distinguishing characteristics of the Sung porcelain as simple, and sometimes clumsy, in shape; the body never white, but at best greyish in colour, and occasionally drab or even reddish-brown; the walls of the pieces thick and rarely possessing the quality of translucence; the glazes imperfect and uneven in their distribution, displaying bubbles and drops; and the decoration attained by the use of coloured glazes but never by painting under the glaze.

The significant wares produced during the Sung period were the Ju yao (yao means "ware"), whose pale green surface was compared to the lightest jade and was said to feel like "congealed lard" to the touch; the Kuan yao of the twelfth century, with a crackled green or blue glaze; the Chun Chou yao with its blue glaze dappled with purple or plum-coloured splotches; and the Lung ch'uan yao.

Unless one is specialising in ancient Chinese porcelains, which are to be found only in the best museums and a few of the most famous private collections, and are quite unobtainable, the last named variety is the only one that needs to be considered. It is the old celadon ware, so highly prized in the Middle Ages, and was exported in considerable quantities to India, Persia, Egypt and other parts of Asia and Africa, a small amount finding its way to Europe from the merchants of Cairo. It is this celadon that has had so many imitations and reproductions and the genuine pieces of which are so valued today.

It was called Martabani ware in Persia because it was shipped from the port of Moulmein on the Gulf of Martaban, in Burmah, and by this name it was at one time more or less known in Europe. The name celadon, by which it is now generally known, was later applied in allusion to the grey-green dress of the shepherd Celadon who appeared in d'Urfe's Astree.

From the earliest times it was universally esteemed and admired for its beauty and was also looked upon with superstitious veneration because it was commonly believed to possess the magic property of changing colour on being brought into contact with poisoned food or drink. The protection it was thus supposed to afford against poison naturally increased the high regard in which it was held. The "Warham Bowl" bequeathed to New College,Oxford, by Archbishop Warham in 1530 is a piece of this ware.

The body of celadon porcelain is heavy and thick and the pieces are covered with a coloured glaze, sea-green, grey-green, olive-green, blue-green or grass-green. The glaze may be either plain or crackled, but the smooth plain glaze is more usual. Although a certain amount of the celadon ware is undecorated, the pieces generally exhibit more or less embellishment under the glaze, the decorations consisting of vigorously drawn floral motifs and occasionally landscapes and Taoist figures. These decorations are executed in relief, incised, engraved, or stamped into the paste, and were fashioned before the pieces were glazed and fired. The glaze is never so thick that the decoration does not shew through very plainly and the increased thickness of the glaze along the lines of the relief or the incisions often increases the depth of colour at those points.

The other notable ceramic product of the Sung period -the one exception previously mentioned before commenting on the characteristics of celadon-is the Ting yao made at Ting Chou in Chihli, a product that came nearer to fulfilling the modern ideals of porcelain quality and excellence than anything previously made.

It is known in the West as fen Ting ("rice-flower Ting ") or pai Ting ("White Ting "), has a thin white or yellowish-white body, and is somewhat translucent and resonant when struck. The decoration consists of delicate ornament, either incised or moulded, and the soft, whitish, tender glaze, more or less dull and opaque, sometimes gathers in "tear-drops" of a straw-coloured tinge. It may be regarded as the immediate ancestor from which sprang the finest subsequent developments in the manufacture of porcelain.

About 1126 the manufacture of Ting yao was transferred from Ting Chou to Ching-te Chen, a place destined under Imperial patronage to become the greatest porcelain-making centre of the world.



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