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Lung-Chuan Yao And Related Celadons

[General Considerations]  [Historical Review]  [Chinese Grave Customs]  [Pottery Of The Chou, Han And Other Pre-T'ang Dynasties]  [Wares Of The Tang Dynasty]  [Ju Yao And Some Related Wares]  [Kuan Yao]  [Chun Yao]  [Ting Yao And Related Wares]  [Lung-Chuan Yao And Related Celadons]  [Tz'u Chou Yao]  [Chien Yao And Related Wares]  [More Articles Related To Chinese Ceramics] 

( Originally Published 1922 )



WE have more direct evidence concerning this group of wares than we have of most of the earlier types. There is not only a considerable amount of literary data to help us, but a number of specimens is fortunately available for study and admiration. The celadons constitute, in the opinion of many collectors, the most artistically pleasing of all the early glazes : their delicacy of colouring and their subtle softness of texture cannot but appeal to all, while the shapes usually employed for the display of the glaze comprise a range of simple forms which are equally restful to the eye. Though copied more or less successfully, the quality of glaze possessed by the Sung prototypes seems never to have been attained. by the potters of later times.

Lung-ch'uan, from which the ware derives its name, is a town in the south-west of Chekiang, the province in which Hang Chou, the capital of the Southern Sung dynasty, is situated. The Lung-ch'uan wares of Sung and Yuan times may be divided into three main categories and subdivided again according to colour and make. In the Sung dynasty proper it seems probable that the ware, though fine in paste, was heavily built and the technique hardly up to the standard reached in the Southern Sung dynasty. The Ch'ing pi-ts'ang tells us " Ancient Lung-ch'uan porcelain is of finely worked paste but thick fabric. The colour is a deep grass green. The best is considered equal to the Imperial ware but it has neither crackles nor brown mouth nor iron coloured foot. It wears wonderfully well and is not readily cracked or broken, but the workmanship is rather clumsy, and the designs neither antique nor artistic. Some pieces formed of white paste are covered outside with the green glaze so thinly that traces of the white body show through. This was made by Chang, who lived during the Sung dynasty, and it is consequently called also Chang porcelain. He adopted the Lung-ch'uan methods of manufacture and improved upon them in the fineness of his work and excellence of his designs."

Prior therefore to the ware made by Chang, whose products form our second category, there appears to have been a factory or factories at Lung-ch'uan producing a celadon ware. Indeed, it seems highly probable that celadons were made in the Sung dynasty elsewhere than at Lung-ch'iian, and that the Honan factories also exploited this type of article. In any case it is clear, as we shall see presently, that there were factories in North China which produced analogous porcelains.

The second category consists of wares produced from kilns under the direction and control of a potter named Chang. There were two brothers of this name, natives of Ch'u Chou, who lived, Dr. Hirth tells us, in the Southern Sung dynasty (1127-1279). They set up their factories at a place called Liu-t'ien about twenty miles from Lung-ch'uan and produced different porcelains. The elder brother made what was called Ko porcelain, but it is the younger brother's work which must claim our attention first; for to him and to those working under him are to be attributed the specimens so highly prized by European collectors, and perhaps even more by Chinese and Japanese connoisseurs.

The younger Chang seems to have been specially renowned for his thin ware and for the beautiful jade-like glaze he imparted to it. Specimens of the thin type are rare and not often seen in this country; we cannot be surprised at only a small percentage surviving the vicissitudes of some eight or nine hundred years, and any that still exist are, no doubt, the prized possessions of Chinese and Japanese collectors. But a few of the " wasters " dug up on the old kiln site, which have found their way to London, give us direct evidence of this thin ware, while sundry illustrations of specimens in Hsiang's Album 1 furnish additional confirmation of written descriptions.

While examples of this thin type are rare, the heavier-built specimens of the younger Chang's art are fortunately not uncommon, though perfect specimens are very expensive and only rarely reach this country. Before describing the different glaze colours employed and the various designs commonly used in their decoration, we must first note the features of the body. The paste is of a whitish or stonegrey colour when examined at a fracture subsequent to firing; where the glaze has run thinly, the paste gleams white through it. Where, however, the paste has been exposed to the heat of the kiln without glaze protection, it exhibits a red colour; sometimes the red is a bright brick-red and sometimes it is of a duller redbrown tone. The red is due to the iron in the clay becoming oxidised during the firing, and the varying tones of colour are no doubt accounted for by the different amounts of iron present or by variations in the firing temperature. When the red colour is not too predominant the paste on the exposed foot exhibits a puttylike appearance, which is characteristic.

The glaze on Sung specimens varies in colour from a pale blue through shades of green to grey; the most entirely satisfying from an artistic point of view is perhaps the green colour resembling jade, which was what Chang the Younger was striving to represent. But whatever may be the precise colour tone, the glaze has a softness of texture and an absence of the glassiness which characterises the later productions. A good specimen of the ware is seen on Plate XX. It is a vase with ring handles attached by glaze to the sides; the glaze has a beautiful texture and the much-prized bluish celadon colour. The vase is a kiln-site waster, having been thrown out, no doubt, owing to its deformed lip.

Specimens of the bluish-grey Lung-ch'uan ware are known under the Japanese title of Kinuta seiji. Kinuta means mallet, and a favourite shape was a vase in the form of a mallet. A celebrated vase of this shape in Japan gave rise to the generic name Kinuta, which is often applied to the ware as a whole.

The objects made appear to have been plates, dishes, vases of different forms, bowls and vessels for the scholar's table such as brush rests, water droppers, etc., which sometimes took the form of animals.

The kinds of decoration employed may be grouped into four classes, and in addition there are specimens which depend for their beauty on glaze and shape alone. Some of these last may exhibit a crazing of the glaze, as distinct from a controlled crackle, but the majority show a smooth and uninterrupted surface.

The first form of decoration which we must note is that produced by carving or etching the body itself with a fine point and thereafter covering the object with glaze, which, owing to its translucency and thinness of application allows the decoration to appear with distinctness. The next class consists of a decoration produced in relief by pressing the soft paste in an intaglio mould before applying the glaze; the vase shown on Plate XXI is representative. Another not uncommon type in this category is exemplified in pencil washing dishes, with one or two fish moulded in strong relief on the bottom and covered with glaze, so that they look as if they were swimming in it.

The third class depends for its decoration on the property of the paste turning a reddishbrown on being subjected to the heat of the kiln. The intaglio mould is applied but no glaze is placed on the relief ornament; in consequence the relief turns a reddish-brown colour and stands out prominently amid the surrounding glaze.

A fourth class comprises the spotted celadons or what the Japanese term tobi seiji. The effect consists of patches of brown upon the celadon glaze and is produced by the addition of splashes of a different glaze upon the main glaze.

We have now examined the range of the younger Chang's art, as it is described in literary records and exemplified by specimens obtained from the Lung-ch'uan kiln-sites. If further evidence of their Sung origin is required, the catalogue produced by the Metropolitan Museum of New York provides confirmation. Two specimens are there described which present features identical with those possessed by certain of the foregoing examples, and these were excavated from the ruins of Rhages in Persia which was destroyed in 1256.

The mention of Persia brings us to the distribution of this celadon ware. The name celadon is thought to be derived from that of the shepherd Celadon (a character in a seventeenth-century novel called L'Astree written by Honore d'Urfe), whose garb of grey-green cloth became so well known as to add a tone to the list of recognised shades of green. Another idea that has been suggested more recently is that the name is derived from Saladin, who sent forty pieces of the ware to Nur-ed-din in Damascus in 1171. In Persian countries the ware was known as 1Vlartabani : this name finds its origin from the Gulf of Martaban on which the important sea-port of Moulmein is situated. Moulmein is at the mouth of the Salween river, the upper waters of which are in Yunnan; and the ware may have been transported to Moulmein by road and river or, what is more likely, exported to that town from one of the ports in the Amoy district, by sea. That the trade in the ware was widely distributed is proved by the fact that specimens of it have been found in localities so distant from the source of origin as Java, Sumatra, the Philippines, Borneo, India, Persia, Arabia, Egypt and Zanzibar. The Imperial collections in Constantinople contain specimens added in the Middle Ages; while in England we have evidence of the existence of one specimen as far back as 1530, when Archbishop Warham bequeathed his famous celadon bowl to New College, Oxford.

In India the ware is called ghori ware; a name derived from the town of Ghoor on the PersianAfghanistan frontier and the seat of government of the Ghori Emperors of India.

The type of article forming the basis of this far-flung trade were heavily-built vessels, generally massive plates and dishes which endured without mishap the rough handling to which they must have been subjected. The finer ware would not have survived mediaeval transport, and native buyers in any case exhibited too keen an appreciation of its artistic merits to allow the foreigner to acquire specimens of it in quantity. The superstitious belief that these celadon dishes were proof against poison may have been an additional reason for their preservation.

We have spent some time in describing the ware which bears the name of the younger Chang and which was manufactured during the Sung and Yuan dynasties : before proceeding to enumerate the features of the later examples produced at a different centre in continuation of the younger Chang's traditions, it is necessary to dispose of our third main category-Ko ware. Ko Ko means elder brother, and Ko yao, or the Elder Brother's ware, is the name given to the productions of the elder Chang. Tradition and literary data point to the fact that, like his brother, the elder Chang was a potter with a factory at Lung-ch'uan; but unfortunately we have nothing like the same evidence of authenticated specimens of his art as we have of Chang the Younger.

Ko ware is not usually grouped with Lungch'uan yao, but while most of the specimens attributed to the elder Chang or his assistants differ very considerably from the Lung-ch'uan porcelains, we cannot ignore the circumstantial evidence that exists of their similar provenance, and for this reason an attempt is made to describe the ware in this chapter rather than elsewhere.

The Chinese books give rather conflicting accounts of the characteristics of Ko yao : one describes the colour of the glaze as green, another as nearly white, but there is general agreement that the glaze was intentionally crackled. We have seen that the porcelain fabricated by the younger Chang was not crackled, though there may be a fortuitous crazing; the distinguishing characteristic of the elder brother's work was a well-marked " hundred-fold crackle," occurring in a thick marble-like glaze. So distinctive was this feature thought to be, that the eighteenthcentury crackled wares-and particularly the white crackled ware-go by the generic title of Ko ware. The point is mentioned because, failing actual contemporary specimens, some value must be placed on the evidence afforded by the later imitations of the ancient wares.

If the elder Chang worked with supplies of clay obtained from the same locality as his brother, it is fair to assume that the bodies of the two types of ware were similar and that their red colour was due to iron oxidisation. In that case we may describe specimens of intentionally crackled ware of the Lung-ch'uan type as Ko ware. This would be a comforting theory to collectors in the possession of crackled speci mens of obviously Lung-ch'uan origin. In the absence of indisputable data, such a classification must be tentative at best, but those who can afford to hold an optimistic opinion, and who have not to substantiate their belief on grounds firmer than conscientious conjecture, may exhibit with glee a piece of crackled celadon of early date with a Lung-ch'uan paste as a genuine example of Ko yao. The specimen shown on Plate XXII might be so discussed.

On the other hand, the specimens of Ko yao which are usually so attributed differ considerably from the Lung-ch'uan type. One beautiful example of the Sung potter's art, which has been so classified by Mr. Hobson, is illustrated in colour in his Chinese Pottery and Porcelain, vol. i, Plate XIX. It is oval-shaped, with a reddishbrown stoneware body and a smooth marblelike glaze of dove-grey colour with wide crackle. To my mind this specimen gives the impression of Kuan yao rather than Ko yao; the vase possesses the characteristic qualities of the Sung Imperial ware and resembles several of the specimens illustrated in Hsiang's Album.

If the examples which are usually described as Ko yao were made by Chang the Elder and his school, they must have been constructed from a very different clay from that used by the Chang the Younger in the Lung-ch'iian district. That there was a good deal of similarity between examples of Kuan yao and Ko yao is proved by the reference to the two wares in the Po-wuyao-lan, which states: " The Kuan porcelain exhibits throughout faint lines like crab's claws, while the Ko porcelain has throughout faint marks like fish roe, but the glaze of the latter does not equal that of the former." If there had not been a considerable likeness between the two wares, this early seventeenth-century work would hardly have contrasted them thus in the passage quoted.

During the Yuan dynasty, the Lung-ch'uan yao probably did not differ materially from that produced in the Sung period; but, as we have seen in Chapter II, the Mongol regime considerably extended intercourse with the West, and no doubt the heavy Martabani ware was an excellent commercial product. It is a fair assumption, perhaps, that the larger number of trading centres throughout the Empire stimulated the output of the solid and decorative celadons, and that many of the specimens found outside China date from the Yuan dynasty.

This is mainly conjecture from a priori reasoning, but we do know that on the establishment of the Ming dynasty, the Lung-chuan factories were moved from that centre to Ch'u Chou, which is about seventy miles from it. There the manufacture was continued, but we are told that while the body paste was similar-white with the property of turning red when exposed to the fire -the ware was coarser and not up to the Sung standard. We learn also that the Ko porcelain "fabricated anew at the close of the Yuan dynasty was clumsy in make, opaque and bad in colour." 1 Native tradition, according to Hirth, holds that by the end of the Ming dynasty celadon porcelain ceased to be made at Ch'u Chou.

On these data we have to attempt an attribution of the various types of heavy celadon ware which have been found in so many widely separated countries. The plates and dishes have glazed bases which exhibit, as a rule, an unglazed red-brown ring. Which are Sung products, which are Yuan, and which are Ming ? Probably there is no more vexed question in Chinese ceramics, nor one which is less easy to answer. All that can be done is to suggest possible lines of demarcation, with the knowledge that the degrees of variation are ill-defined even if they are to be regarded as marking essential differences.

The specimens with a glassy, vitreous glaze, which is, as a rule, of a darkish green colour, are universally accepted as of Ming origin. But those with a freshness of colour and a luscious depth of glaze are far more difficult to date. Many of them may also be Ming examples made at Ch'u Chou, but in cases where the decoration is well drawn and the general technique good, there is considerable argument in favour of a Sung or Yuan origin. Personally, and in a case like this everyone must use his or her own judgment, I favour a Yuan origin for a large proportion of this type of celadon ware. My belief is based on historical facts. No one can deny that the Mongol empire was one of the most widely flung in the history of the world, or that during its sway Chinese trade was extended to a degree that never existed before-not even under the T'ang dynasty. One can imagine a Mongol official arriving at the Lung-ch'uan factories and the following kind of conversation taking place:

Mongol Official. " I would have you know that this country is now part of an Empire, the extent of which you doubtless do not realise. Our trading extends thousands of miles; our ships and caravans go all over the world. We have excellent customers as far West as the Black Sea and throughout Persia who would like this green ware that you make."

Lung-ch'uan Potter. " But we make, as a rule, delicate things, which would never carry such distances."

Mongol Official. " Well, you can start and make, in greater quantities, heavier things which will carry well and without damage. Send me samples in a week."

After some grumbling, no doubt, the potter complied with the mandate, and next year the order was doubled, and so on. The potters found that less exact finishes and less intricate work met the case, and that the heavier ware could be turned out rapidly. The large quantities ordered and supplied soon swelled their profit and loss accounts on the right side and their pleasure increased accordingly. The neighbouring potters at Chin Ts'un and Li Shui followed suit and the news spread north to Honan and elsewhere. Such is my conception of what may have taken place.

We must next examine the wares related to the Lung-ch'uan porcelains. There are first the other Chekiang factories : at Chin T'sun and at Li Shui, both places not very distant from Lungch'uan, similar celadons were produced, though the Chinese records point to their being inferior in quality. These centres were at work during the Sung and Yuan dynasties but did not persist later, so far as can be ascertained. Some of the less distinguished pre-Ming specimens were no doubt manufactured in these towns, but at this distance of time and without kiln-site evidence we cannot identify the wares.

A more important group of factories, which in all probability produced celadon wares, are some of the Honan centres. It is difficult to believe that, if the Chekiang potters were making a good thing out of celadons, the Honan potters did not try and do likewise. There were at least seven important centres at work in that province during the Sung and Yuan dynasties; some of them were producing special wares for which they were famous and of which a description is given elsewhere. These, perhaps, confined their attention to their own specialities, but some of the less noted and those exhibiting more catholicity in their endeavours probably manufactured excellent celadons. Probable centres which can be considered in this connexion are the factories in the immediate neighbourhood of K'ai-feng Fu, including the town of Ch'en Liu. Among the wares produced near K'ai-feng Fu, which, as we have seen, was the capital in the Sung dynasty before 1127, the Ko-ku yao--lun speaks of a ware of a " pale green colour marked with fine crackle lines and which has usually a brown mouth and iron-coloured foot." Such a description clearly points to what we know as a celadon ware, and probably quite a number of specimens which differ from the Lung-ch'uan type in paste and glaze, but with other similarities in beauty of workmanship, are to be ascribed to these Honan potters.

The K'ao-p'an yu-shih tells us that there were " pots of winter green porcelain in the form of a chrysanthemum flower with an ovoid vessel standing upon round feet in the midst of the petals." The spoken words tung ch'ing, which may mean either " Eastern green " or " winter green," have different written characters, though the tones are the same. Apparently a confusion between tung (Eastern) and tung (winter) is not uncommon and may have occurred in this passage, which seems to add some weight to the theory that wares of the celadon type were manufactured at the Eastern capital (K'ai-feng Fu) or in its vicinity.

Another centre of manufacture of celadons was the province of Kuangtung. At some of the factories round about Canton, celadon ware, not dissimilar from the Lung-ch'uan type, seems to have been made contemporaneously with the Lung-ch'uan and Ch'u Chou wares. Characteristic specimens often take the form of figures, such as statuettes of the Goddess Kuan Yin. The figure and garb are covered with a celadon glaze, but the face is left free of it; as a result the unprotected biscuit 1 assumes a dark brown colour and gives a swarthy appearance to the person represented. Figures were also made at Lung-ch'uan, but the biscuit faces of specimens from those factories are redder and of a much lighter shade. The quality of the Canton celadons is distinctly inferior to those from the Lung-ch'uan kilns both in modelling and glaze.

Our next group of related wares is that embraced by the conveniently vague term Northern Chinese. " When in doubt say Northern Chinese " is as good advice to a collector of Chinese ceramics when confronted with a dubious Sung celadon, as the similar phrase is to the whist player when he does not know what suit to lead.

The result is not dissimilar, for he is not likely to get trumped!

If we look at a map of China, the northern provinces are seen to be Shensi, Shansi, Chihli and Shantung, and broadly speaking these comprise the country north of the Yellow River before its course was changed in 1852. In these provinces there were factories operating during the Sung dynasty, though most of them, from literary evidence, were engaged upon the manufacture of wares other than celadons. But just as some of the Honan factories probably added to their profits by making celadons, so these other centres still further north very likely found that the demand justified the supply.

The specimens which are usually so ascribed are vases, bowls and plates of an olive-green colour with a glaze of a more glassy texture than the Lung-ch'iian glaze. Many are beautifully decorated with carved floral designs, and some have their attractiveness enhanced by incised cloud or wave effects as settings for the design itself, achieved by combing the paste before the glaze is applied. Fragments of this kind of ware were discovered at Samarra and have also been found buried in the northern province of Kansu.

One of the reasons for giving these wares a northern provenance is their resemblance to Corean examples of a similar nature. The typical Corean finish is lacking, and the marks left by the " spurs," or the tiny piles of sand, on the small circular foot-rims are absent; but if these Corean potting features were added, there would be little or no difference to be detected. The Corean potters, no doubt in large part emigrants from China, followed the Sung style and based their art upon Chinese motives and shapes. So it is that we find difficulty in differentiating between the two sets of ware, apart from potting technique; and we are forced to give this vague term Northern Chinese to wares which it is impossible to classify more narrowly in the absence of kiln-site evidence.

But Corea is not the only extra-mural ware to which reference must be made in discussing the celadons. As early as the Sung dynasty, and probably earlier, Chinese potters were established at Sawankalok in Siam, some two hundred miles north of Bangkok, and we know a good deal about the kind of ware produced thereat from wasters dug up from the kiln-site. There are representative collections of these, both in the British and Victoria and Albert Museums. The body consists of a coarse, heavy, grey-white paste which shows red at the base. The vessels, which are chiefly bowls and vases, seem to have been baked, supported on tubular uprights; as a result a small circular ring is frequently, but not invariably, found on the base. These tubular supports were of varying heights and served the purpose of raising the vases, etc., so that they were not brought into contact with the embers and ashes of the kiln in which they were fired."

The glaze, unlike the Lung-chuan glaze, is thin and watery, varying in colour from a pale green to a pale blue-green. Brown and purple glazes are also found on the Sawankalok wares. In concluding this description of the early celadons reference must be made to the later imitations of Chinese and Japanese origin. At Ching-te Chen, celadon ware was produced in quantities during the Ming and Ch'ing dynasties, and there is no particular reason to suppose that in the earlier days of the ceramic metropolis, before the Ming dynasty, some effort at producing celadons was not attempted; though the not far distant Chekiang factories probably set a standard with which Ching-te Chen in those times could not compete.

In the eighteenth century, when Ching-te Chen reigned practically supreme, good celadons, with or without crackle, were turned out; but there is little difficulty in distinguishing them from their Sung and Yuan prototypes. The body is of fine white porcelain which, though generally disguised with a coating of brown ferruginous clay at the foot-rim, is not difficult to detect. The colour of the glaze was obtained by adding a pinch of cobalt, and there is consequently a more predominant blue tone in most examples.

The imitations made in Japan present more difficulty in their detection. The foot-rims often show a natural red tinge, though generally dressed with ferruginous clay in more complete imitation of the old iron-foot. The Japanese potters have very successfully copied the typical features of the Lung-ch'uan glaze, so much so that it needs an experienced eye to discard the copy on glaze examination alone. Needless to say the most highly prized shapes, such as the kinuta vases, are those exploited. Good modern specimens are most desirable examples of the potter's art, and provided one does not pay the price of a twelfth-century piece for a twentieth-century article, a collection is strengthened in some respects by their inclusion.



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