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Errors About Old Porcelain
( Originally Published 1913 )
Though the study of porcelain is quite a science, it can never become an exact science in the sense that mathematics and botany and anatomy are exact sciences; the early records are too scanty for that. Books on the subject published even twenty years ago are full of errors due to incomplete knowledge, and each china-collector will in his own " line " find some of these mistakes out for himself. Every now and then, however, an important discovery is made, which corrects a whole class of blunders. Here is one :
Celadon China. The oldest and rarest kinds of Chinese porcelain are those which go by the generic name of celadon. The first translators from the Chinese records on porcelain quoted the name celadon as meaning "blue as the sky after rain." Yet the most usual celadon colour does not answer that description at all, and the term has puzzled English collectors, who have been fain to suppose that either they or the early Chinese were in this matter rather colour-blind. But now it appears that the first translators of Chinese records about porcelain made a textual mistake. The translation should have been " green as the sky after rain " ; and certainly the most usual celadon tint much more nearly resembles the faint green of a clearing sky than a blue.
That was why the earliest piece of Chinese porcelain known in Europe was called " grene pursselyne." This is a " bowl of pale sea-green celadon, mounted in silver-gilt, preserved at New College, Oxford." It is " known as the cup of Archbishop Warham (1504-32) ; it is said to have been presented to the college by that prelate, and the early date is confirmed by the style of the mounting."
But the term " celadon " has been applied in error, which has gone too far to be set right again, not only to green ware, but to ware of all colorations which reside in the glaze. These coloured " celadon" glazes, yellow, pink, claret, and many other tints never procured by European potters, are lovely in themselves. But the lover of " Oriental " goes into raptures over the modelling, and the expression, and the mythology also. Old Oriental figures, Old Buddhist gods and goddesses, mandarins, priests, and peasants, and above all the fabulous monsters called " kylins " are real treasures, seldom to be bought.
The Crusader's Plate. Until lately, all the books on Oriental porcelain used to tell us that the earliest piece of porcelain to come to Europe was preserved in the Green Vaults at Dresden. It is a little plate " inlaid with garnets cut into facettes," and " was brought back from the East by a Crusader" (so the legend went). But " I am afraid that this must go the way of so many similar stories," writes Mr. Edward Dillon. He goes on: " I have had an opportunity of examining this often-quoted example of early Chinese porcelain, as well as a cup similarly inlaid in the same collection, and I quite agree with Dr. Zimmerman, the curator of the museum, that the setting can hardly be earlier than the sixteenth century."
"Armorial " and " Lowestoft " China.-Far-spreading error has arisen in connection with what the dealers call " armorial Lowestoft " and " Lowestoft " ; and Mr. Dillon takes " a rapid glance at a large and complicated group, decorated wholly or in part in European style." He says that " quite early, perhaps before 1700, figures and groups in plain white ware, for the most part attired in the European costume of the day, were exported from China " (some of these today, by the by, masquerade as " Plymouth " or " hard Bow "). " Later on," says Mr. Dillon, " it became the fashion for the European merchants at Canton to supply the native enamellers of that city with engravings, to be copied by them in colours on the white ware.... But the most frequent task given to these Canton enamellers was the reproduction of elaborate coats-ofarms upon the centre of a plate or dish, or sometimes upon a whole dinner-service.... This armorial china has nothing to do with Lowestoft," and " whether any hard porcelain from other sources was ever painted at Lowestoft is very doubtful."
As to the so-called Lowestoft mandarin and Long Eliza porcelain, " the Lowestoft porcelain of the dealers is now known to have been painted by Chinese artists at Canton." Let me go on to say that the so called "Lowestoft" ribbon and flower pattern, when it occurs on hard china, is almost certainly "New Hall." The porcelain made at Lowestoft was always " soft." It was badly made, and rude as a rule.