|Antiques Digest||Browse Auctions||Appraisal||Home|
( Originally Published 1922 )
Tz'U CHoU is in the province of Chihli, though it was formerly in Honan. The character which denotes the township is the same as that used for crockery, and " Crockery Town " is a fitting name; for ware is still manufactured there and it has been a pottery centre since the Sui dynasty. In fact there is no place in China which has had a longer and more continuous connexion with ceramics.
But while length of service stands to its credit, the Tz'u Chou factory did not produce ware which was held in the highest esteem in China. The T'ao Shuo, quoting the Ko-ku yaolun, speaks of the ware as resembling Ting yao in its best examples but there were no " tearmarks." It included pieces with engraved decoration, specimens with painted ornamentation, and plain pieces. The products dating from the Yuan dynasty were reckoned of no account.
Hsiang's Album contains no representatives of the group, and it is clear that, in Chinese estimation, the ware was regarded as more suitable for domestic use than for the scholar's table or the delectation of the virtuoso. But, as in the case of the Chun yao, later connoisseurs have put considerable value on the early examples, some of which are certainly noble in form and exhibit high artistic qualities.
Apart from the resemblance of certain examples to the Ting type of ware, the chief difficulty which the collector of today will experience, will be in deciding which specimens of obvious Tz'u Chou origin were made in the Sung and Yuan dynasties and which are to be attributed to subsequent periods. The traditions of the factory have evidently undergone little or no change, and it is extremely difficult to determine which specimens are of Sung origin and which of 1Vling or of even later date. Although, as stated, the centre was in being before the Sung dynasty, the wares produced before that time were probably of a crude nature; and it is unlikely that extant examples are common, as the output was then on a relatively small scale.
The body is a hard porcellanous stoneware of a somewhat coarse grain; the colour is usually greyish-white; sometimes the paste has a yellowish tone and in less frequent examples the body is a reddish stoneware, if the specimens with painted ornament under blue or green glazes described later on p. 151 are in fact products of Tz'u Chou.
The technique frequently used in the glaze application was to apply a coating of white slip and then to place upon it a transparent film of glaze. But other methods were also employed, and it is necessary to describe the various main types in detail.
The class which will be met with most frequently consists of large heavily-built vases of various shapes covered with a white glaze on which designs are painted in black or dark brown. These designs are usually floral in character and often arranged in bands running round the vase. Sometimes simple scenes are found painted in a similar fashion, with one or more figures of persons set in panels surrounded by scroll work. These panelled vases may be of Ming origin and specimens of the type exist which bear a Ming date. While it is impossible to dogmatise on the subject, a collector will probably be wise to attribute this type to a period later than the Sung dynasty.
Besides vases and large bowls decorated in this way, pillows are not uncommon. Figures of Lohans, of Kuan Yin and of various notables are frequently met with, but many, if not most, of the specimens usually seen are later products of Tz'u Chou; in Sung specimens fine and strong modelling must be exhibited and harmony of the black, or brown, or red colouring on the white glaze must be achieved. In the Ming and Manchu examples there is a crudeness of colour application and a sloppiness in the modelling which betray a weaker art; in fact most of these figures, of which there are considerable numbers on the market, have very little decorative value.
Figuring in black or brown on a white glaze was not the only form of painted ornamentation. Specimens which bear every sign of Sung workmanship, with floral designs executed with boldness in brick red, green and yellow enamels, are not impossible to find; and these constitute the few manifestations of polychrome decoration in the Sung dynasty.
Before passing to the next division of the Tz'u Chou wares, viz. those belonging to the etched or engraved category, we must describe another form of painted ware, the provenance of which is somewhat uncertain.
It has been customary to place among the Tz'u Chou wares a well-defined group of specimens with painted black ornamentation under a transparent blue or green glaze. The body of these examples consists of a reddish stoneware and the painted designs take the form of panels of figures or of flowers and leaves. The body is unlike the usual Tz'u Chou paste and the attribution given is no doubt based on the technique employed in the painted decoration. In the light of later evidence we may have reason to place this group of wares to the credit of another factory. In this connexion it is important to note a description given by Mr. Laufer i of a small dish excavated from a Sung tomb at Wei Hsien in Shantung. Mr. Laufer describes the dish as possessing " a beautiful gobelin-blue crackled glaze " and as made of a finer clay than the other specimens found at the same place; the bottom of the inside of the dish shows ornamentation painted in black. There appear to be analogies between this specimen and the group now under consideration.
The Tz'u Chou potters evidently made considerable use of the engraving tool, for the next class includes a variety of beautiful effects produced by glaze and etching in combination. The most common method consisted in covering the body with white slip, and carving away the slip so as to leave the pattern in slight relief; the vessel was then covered with a transparent glaze which left the relief decoration standing out in brilliant white in contrast to the warm grey of the body with its covering film of glaze. Another plan adopted was to cover the vessel before firing with a fairly thick, dark brown glaze, without the interposition of a slip, and to scrape away the groundwork, so that after firing the design stood out against the buff-coloured biscuit.
A less common variety is that in which the design is traced with an etching tool through a brown or black glaze down to the white slip but not down to the body itself. The result is that the design shows up in white tracery on a brown or black background. In other cases the body is carved with a design and the whole subsequently covered with white slip and glazed.
All the methods used by the Tz'u Chou potters are included in these processes or combinations of them. By ringing the changes and substituting different coloured slips or different coloured glazes, or by increasing the degree to which the slip is removed and the body exposed, a wide range of effects was obtained.
Occasionally a combination of the white slip technique and the black glaze is found. will be seen an ovoid vase with loop handles, the lower portion of which is glazed in black and the upper portion with white slip and transparent glaze but with figuring in black glaze as well.
It will be realised that the number of methods practised by the Tz'u Chou potters was considerable, and if a collector desires to obtain a representative collection of the ware, he will need to have considerable space at his disposal; especially as the vases which constitute the usual subject of decoration are bulky. Small specimens are not too easy to find.
There is a large group of wares which show considerable similarity to the Tz'u Chou wares, both in technique and in paste. So far as the body is concerned, the ware seems identical with the Tz'u Chou yao and is a grey stoneware. The white slip and transparent glaze technique is found, with or without etched or carved designs. Some have self-colour glazes, either black or dark brown, similar to those described in the next chapter, and frequently with some indication of "hare's fur" markings. Specimens of this type have been dug up at Kuluhsien in Chihli, which is 70 miles north-east of Tz'u Chou. The old town of Kuluhsien was inundated and destroyed in A.D. 1108, so that the specimens recently unearthed could not have been made later than that date. They comprise mainly vases, bowls, dishes and saucers, which, owing to burial, have become stained in the crazing of the glaze and often show passages of reddish or brown colour. A bowl, with crinkled lid, of the type in question. Quite conceivably the ware owes its origin to Tz'u Chou, as there does not seem to be any evidence of kilns on the site. Beyond proving the early date of the ware found at this place, these discoveries do not carry us very far. Still less do the fragments, recently unearthed in the north-west of Shansi, establish new facts of scientific importance. Many interesting portions of vessels have been found at Tokoto and other places in Shansi destroyed in frontier fights with the Mongols. These were recovered from the surfaces of the sites of these towns, mostly ploughed up by cultivators: the fragments comprise pieces of Chun ware, of Lung-ch'uan celadon, of blue and white ware and of various types, showing the usual Tz'u Chou technique as well as the black Chien-like glazes on a grey stoneware body. In the neighbourhood complete specimens resembling some of these fragments have been obtained. Surface finds of this nature cannot be regarded as evidence of their early date of production, as they may have become buried in comparatively recent times. Still less do they afford evidence of local manufacture at these places.
So far as glaze is concerned, the Tz'u Chou wares with a black glaze, showing the " hare's fur " type of marking, bear close resemblance to those classed as Honan in the next chapter; but the body of the latter group is different and serves to provide a line of demarcation. The difference between the Honan body and the Tz'u Chou body is represented fairly by the difference between sea-shore sand dried in the sun and damp.
With regard to imitations and forgeries, the collector need have little fear of specimens which do not owe their manufacture to Tz'u Chou potters; but the town is still a flourishing centre of the potting industry, and no doubt the ware made is designed on archaic lines on much the same principle as that followed by Messrs. Wedgwood and other great English potters who make replicas of famous prototypes. Unlike the latter, however, the Chinese potters did not make a practice of adding distinguishing marks, so that the collector has to use his own powers of discrimination. There is more difficulty in distinguishing the Tz'u Chou yao of the Sung, Yiian, 1Vling and 1Vlanchu dynasties and of the Republic than is the case in any other Chinese ceramic ware. Probably no other centre in the world has made " pots " for at least thirteen hundred years continuously; and Tz'u Chou has done so, if its origin in the Sui dynasty is taken into account.