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Kuan Yao

[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 )



IN practically every case the wares of the Sung and Yuan dynasties are known by the name of the centre where the factory was situated; but we have to consider in the present chapter an important class which derives its title from no particular place of manufacture. Kuan means Imperial or official; and Kuan yao signifies ware made for Imperial or official use. It follows that it might have been produced at different Imperial or Imperially subsidised factories, and the term could be used in connexion with ware of different dates. We have ample evidence that this was so, but the Imperial ware of the Sung dynasty is sometimes distinguished from that made later by the prefix Ta (Great) ; so named after the Ta Kuan period (1107-1110). We have no record of. the word being applied generically to wares earlier than the Sung epoch.

From our study of Chinese history in Chapter II, the name of the Sung Emperor Hui Tsung is familiar as one of the great patrons of art, and it was in his reign that the Imperial kilns at K'ai-feng Fu-the capital of the Sung dynasty proper-were established. Hui Tsung was the last representative of his House to rule at K'ai-feng Fu, and the production of Kuan yao there was limited to a period of twenty years. The kilns were established about 1107, and the flight of the court across the Yang-tze took place, as we have seen, in 1127.

When the Southern Sung dynasty was formed with its seat of government at Hang Chou, new factories were established in its immediate vicinity; for we learn from the Tao Shuo that, under the Directorship of Shao Ch'eng-chang, kilns were set up at the Hsiu Nei Ssu,l the products of which were known in consequence as Nei yao as well as Kuan yao. Another writer quoted in the same work states that these Imperial kilns were situated under the Phcenix Hill, which is in the vicinity of Hang Chou. A third Chinese authority speaks of " new potteries built later beneath the Altar of Heaven which were also called Kuan potteries, but the porcelain produced here differed widely from the old ware."

We thus have literary evidence of three centres of production of this Imperial or official ware in the Sung dynasty, two in or near Hang Chou and one at K'ai-feng Fu; and there is little reason to suppose that the factories at Hang Chou did not continue their output during the Mongol regime. But there is more difficulty in determining what constituted the characteristic products of these kilns.

We should naturally expect that, as the potters from K'ai-feng Fu were moved down with the court to Hang Chou when the Emperor fled before the Chin Tartars, the style and general technique of the Kuan yao would be the same; but, as the clay was drawn from an entirely different locality, there would probably be some difference in the body-paste of the ware made in Honan (K'ai-feng Fu) and of that produced in Chekiang (Hang Chou).

The Tao Shuo gives no description of the colour of the body of the K'ai-feng Fu ware, but it quotes the Po-wu yao-lan 1 as stating that the Hang Chou ware was made from a porcelainearth which was brown; and which caused the brown mouth and iron foot, so often spoken of in connexion with the early wares. The brown mouth is explained by the fact that the glaze, running thinly at the top of the vessels in its downward course, allowed the colour of the body below to show through; while the more pronounced colour on the exposed foot was no doubt caused by the heat of the kiln.

If the statement of the Po-wu yao-lan is to be taken as signifying a difference of colour in the clays used in the two groups of Kuan yao, we must assume that the K'ai-feng Fu wares possessed a lighter coloured body than the Hang Chou products. Some confirmation of this surmise is given by comparison with the body of the Chun yao; Chun Chou was not far from K'aifeng Fu and the paste of its wares is not very dark in colour. The bodies of both groups of Kuan yao are of a porcellanous nature and give a clear ring on being struck.

The colour of the glaze is evidently what gave the ware its beauty, and the text of Hsiang's Album furnishes accounts of the various colour tones exhibited by the Kuan glazes. Ten specimens are there described : all have applied to them that elusive word ch'ing, which implies a blue or green colour. The word is qualified by other epithets, which place emphasis on the bluish nature of the glaze rather than on the green tone. We may perhaps assume, therefore, that the colour of the opalescent glaze was a pale lavender as a rule, with specimens of dove-grey at the one extreme and with brighter blues and definite greens at the other. Examples fitting in with this somewhat wide range of colour tones can be found, which also have certain other characteristics, typical of what is generally classified as Kuan yao. One of these is the presence of a blob of glaze inside the foot-rim, but it seems a somewhat unimportant point on which to lay much stress. It would not exercise the wits of a very ordinary potter to fill the foot-rim partially in this way; but the feature is mentioned because it seems characteristic of many of the specimens known to us. Its presence or absence cannot, however, be regarded as more than additional evidence of secondary importance. Some of the specimens are crackled and some are not.

Some specimens, which exhibit the characteristics of Kuan ware as we know it, have splashes of purple or red like the Chiin yao described in the next chapter. Occasionally these splashes of colour take a definite form and look as if they had been controlled.

Although six out of the ten specimens figured in Hsiang's Album possess engraved ornamentation of a fairly simple character, we have no other literary evidence that embellishment in relief, or by etching with a fine point, was practised in the Imperial kilns, as it was for instance at the Lung-ch'iian factories. The main output evidently consisted of high-class glaze effects for the scholar's table or for the cabinet of the art connoisseur.

Related wares appear to have been made at Yu-hang Hsien and Yu-yao Hsien; both places are not far from Hang Chou, and some of the specimens which have come down to us may owe their origin to these factories : there is little or nothing in the way of evidence to mark their special features. We are told in the T'ao Shuo that during the Southern Sung dynasty porcelain of the prohibited colour (pi se) was made at Yu-yao Hsien which resembled the porcelain of Chun Chou. This last remark is of some value; for the Kuan wares, as we know them, resemble most closely the finer types of Chun yao which are discussed at some length in the next chapter.

Finally there are the wares made later at Ching te Chen in imitation of the Sung Kuan or Ta Kuan yao. As we have had occasion to notice elsewhere, the potters of the ceramic metropolis were constantly sent specimens of ancient ware to copy for the Emperor of the day. These imitations invariably have a white porcelain body, which is disguised at the exposed foot by being dressed with ferruginous clay.



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