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Chun 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 the previous chapter we have discussed the Kuan yao, which has distinct affinities to the finer types of Chun yao. In fact the Kuan yao may be regarded as the aristocrats of a large clan, in which the Chun yao represent the working members. Though today the market value placed upon the humbler representatives of the family are as high or higher than that put on any other ceramic group, the Chinese connoisseurs of bygone ages did not regard specimens from the kilns of Chun Chou as more than work-aday companions.

In the T'ao Shuo, one page of Dr. Bushell's translation is all that is devoted to a description of the ware, and no major reference is made to examples of Chun yao in the recitation of typical specimens from the famous kilns. Such references as occur in the description of specimens are parenthetical in nature and of a disparaging character; thus the Po-tvu yao-lan says that " there are also incense urns and boxes of Chun Chou porcelain but they are made of coarse yellow clay and not good."In Hsiang's Album four examples are given, compared with twelve specimens of Ting yao, eleven of Lung-ch'uan yao, and ten of Kuan yao.

But posterity, both in China and in Europe and America, has set a different value upon the beautiful glazes executed in the Chun kilns, and a sum of four figures has to be given for a notable specimen of a Chun bulb-bowl. The factory was established at the beginning of the Sung dynasty at Chiin Chou in Honan, not very far from K'ai-feng Fu, where the earlier examples of Kuan yao were produced. There is no evidence that, when the House of Sung moved south of the Yang-tze to Hang Chou, the potters of Chun Chou went with them; and consequently we would not expect to see the differences of colour in the paste, which may characterise the Kuan yao of the Sung dynasty proper and that of the Southern Sung epoch.

Perhaps the practical Chin Tartars appreciated the Chun wares, and encouraged the continued production of bowls and flower-pots during the time they occupied Honan. When the Mongols overthrew the Southern Sung dynasty it is clear that the potters of Chun Chou were at work, for we have a considerable series of specimens from the factory which have been given the name Yuan tz'u,Which will be described later in this article

During the succeeding Ming dynasty the kilns were evidently still in operation, from the references made to their products in the K'ang Hsi Encyclopaedia (the Ku-chin-t'u-shu) in the section dealing with the t'ao kung (pottery industry). In that dynasty the name of the town was changed to Yd Chou.At the present time pottery is being turned out at Yd Chou; but, if the potters have inherited the estate, they have not maintained the traditions or retained the skill of their predecessors.

The Sung examples of the ware fall into two classes, one is known among the Chinese as tz'u t'ai (porcellanous paste) and the other as sha tai (sandy paste); among European and American collectors the two categories are generally called " hard Chiin " and " soft Chun."

We must here digress for a moment to get our minds clear as to what is meant by the adjective " porcellanous "; and by the phrase " porcellanous stoneware," which has been used by collectors since its introduction by Mr. Hobson. To an English potter, porcelain implies a bodypaste which contains certain ingredients and has been fired to a stage when vitrification has taken place to a considerable extent; as a result, the ware is translucent when held up to the light. Stoneware and earthenware, on the other hand, do not generally transmit light; though, where they have been turned very thin, they do so. Pottery pure and simple is not translucent.The Chinese, however, do not regard translucency as the test, and draw their line of demarcation between wares which emit a musical note on being struck, and those which do not.

" Porcellanous stoneware " implies a ware which answers to the Chinese definition but does not, as a rule, satisfy the English potters' requirements. Several of the Sung wares would be regarded as porcelain in the European sense of the word, since they are fairly translucent, e.g. the Ting yao; and the ying ch'ing ware is highly translucent. But in order to describe the finer and harder wares, which ring on being struck but which are opaque, the term porcellanous stoneware is a convenient one, though to Western minds it may imply a contradiction in terms. Or, to give another definition, porcellanous stoneware is a non-translucent pottery in which a certain amount of the essential ingredients of porcelain are proved or presumed to be present.

The tz'u t'ai is then what we call " porcellanous stoneware " of fine texture, and the sha t'ai a coarser body which tails off in the rougher specimens to a softish earthenware. As is only natural, the gradation is not very well defined, and examples may be found which can be classed at the bottom of the first group or at the top of the second.

The colour of the tz'u t'ai body is a whitishgrey and not very dissimilar from certain other Honan bodies, when examined at a broken or ground-down surface. Mrs. Williams 1 quotes Chinese authorities, with whom she has conferred, as stating that the finer Chun wares were made from tribute clay sent from the neighbourhood of Ching-te Chen in the province of Kiangsi; but the same authorities state that the tribute paid in kind thus was used at Imperial kilns and employed in the manufacture of pots and bowls for Imperial use. There is no literary evidence of the Chiin Chou kilns being, under the patronage of the throne and, if it had been so, Chinese commentators such as the writer of the T'ao Shuo would hardly have failed to describe at some length the type of article made for the palace.

The most gorgeous specimens of the porcellanous stoneware class are shallow bulb-bowls which stand on three small feet, and flower-pots pierced with drainage holes in the bottom, which were intended to stand in saucers to prevent the water soiling the table on which they were placed. Collectors will meet more saucers than pots, since obviously the latter stood in more danger of breakage. The bases of these vessels have, as a rule, a coating of brown or brownish green transparent glaze, and invariably have a numeral incised in the paste. These numbers range from one to ten and denote the size. A pot and its saucer should bear the same number and match also in regard to glaze colour; but the number of perfect specimens, which are so complete, is very small. The bases of the bulbbowls show, in addition, a circle of spur-marks on their circumferences marking the places on which the vessels rested in the kiln. The bases of the flower-pots do not show spurmarks, and apparently they were fired on a circular ring, the mark of which can be discerned.

The glaze colours employed in these Chun bulb-bowls and flower-pots need to be seen to be realised. They vary from a rich crimson, through shades of purple, to blues of different intensities and to lavender and grey tones. The insides of the bowls are generally either a fairly dark blue or a clair-de-lune colour. Though the T'ao Shuo speaks of specimens with a uniform colour as of first importance, and the four examples given in Hsiang's Album have a purple monochrome glaze, the bowls and flower-pots which have come into the Western market have variegated glaze colours. In fact, they represent the earliest examples of the transmutation or flambe glazes, which were so much exploited in the eighteenth century. The use of copper provides the reds, purples and blues by reduction or oxidation, though most of the blue colour can be accounted for by opalescence only.

The Chiin glazes are thick and lustrous, often ending in thick rolls as they reach the end of their downward flow. They are not intentionally crackled, but they exhibit a more distinctive feature in what are called " earthworm marks." These are generally most apparent on the insides of the vessels and look like tiny cracks in the surface of the glaze, taking the shape of a shaky V or Y : sometimes these "earthworm marks" are more rambling in their course, when the origin of the name is apparent. Considerable importance is attached to the presence or absence of these markings by the Chinese, though their occurrence is not mentioned in the short descrip tion of the ware given in the T'ao Shuo. Their presence, like the " tear marks " in the Ting yao, is regarded as a sign of genuineness.

Another characteristic of the Chun glazes is their pitting, which is due to bubbles of air being driven to the surface during the firing. When these burst, they leave tiny scars or pin holes in the glaze.

Apart from the shaping of the feet, which are usually ornamented with simple scrolls, and the addition of a double row of bosses on the bulb-bowls, the Chun wares, as we know them, have no other decoration. They depend for their beauty on the colour effects of the glaze. It is true that the examples figured in Hsiang's Album are ornamented with incised decoration, but no extant example of this embellishment on a Sung specimen is known to exist. Nor have we seen such an elaborate production as the oil vessel in the shape of a coiling dragon, which is one of the specimens depicted in the same work. As stated in the beginning of this chapter, all the wares produced appear to have been of a strictly utilitarian nature and were not designed to add to the mental satisfaction of the scholar in his library or to his ocsthetic indulgence.

The second category of Chun yao, which is termed " soft " Chun by Europeans and sha tai by the Chinese, differs from the type we have just described in two respects : the body is yellower in colour and coarser in grain, and the range of shapes is wider.As already mentioned, the line of demarcation between the two categories is ill defined, and several specimens which I group under this head may well be classified as " hard " Chun, owing to the porcellanous nature of their paste.

Specimens of " soft " Chiin are to be found with numerals incised in the base in a fashion similar to that described above in connexion with the " hard " Chun bulb-bowls.

The general characteristics of the glaze are similar to those displayed in the first category; it is thick and opalescent, and the prevailing colour is blue or lavender-grey. While specimens with a homogeneous colour are in some ways the most pleasing, those with streaks of red or purple are considered specially desirable. The glaze generally shows considerable crazing.

Before dealing with the various imitations of Chun yao of the Sung period, some description must be given of the class of ware which goes by the name of Yuan tz'u.I am not aware how the term Yuan tz'u originated nor does its genesis matter to us; its meaning is evident, and signifies the ware produced at Chun Chou during the Yuan or Mongol dynasty. The phrase would naturally embrace the ware made at any factory during those eighty-seven years, but, in point of fact, is only used in connexion with the Yuan products of the Chiin kilns.

There is no doubt that most, if not all, of the factories which were operating in the Sung dynasty turned out goods for their Mongol masters. As has been suggested in other chapters, the wares may have been of a rougher and less finished character, likely to furnish a good trading article; but it is not probable that definitely new types were created by the native potters during the Yuan dynasty, still less that new centres of ceramic production were founded. The imposition of a foreign rule for a period of less than a hundred years is unlikely to have done anything for creative art. On the other hand, the exactions of the Mongols probably hastened output to the detriment of quality. For these reasons separate consideration will not be given to the Yuan wares in this book, but they will be dealt with, so far as is necessary, under each centre of production. He would be a bold man who, at this distance of time, could say with assurance, " This is a Yuan specimen and that is a Sung one." He might fairly say " This specimen from its general technique seems to lack the finish and quality of Sung examples and inclines me to regard it as a Yuan piece," but that is the most a self-respecting collector can say.Most of us would prefer to say " Sung or Yuan," in the hope that we were within that range of approximately four hundred years.

We have already noted that posterity has placed a high value upon the artistic effect of the Chun glazes; their beauty was evidently appreciated at the end of the Ming dynasty, for we learn from the T'ao Shuo that " the new pieces made in the present day (i.e. Ming days) all have the body of Yi-hsing clay and consequently, although their glaze has some resemblance to the old, and the pieces are of good form, they do not wear well." Later in his commentary the author of the T'ao Shuo remarks: " We find again that during the Ming dynasty there lived in the province of Kiangnan, at Yi-hsing Hsien, a man named Ou, who made the porcelain called after him ` Ou ware.' He imitated the crackles of the ancient Ko porcelain and the colours of the Imperial (Kuan) and Chun Chou productions of the Sung dynasty. The colours employed by him were very numerous."

The Yi-hsing clay produces a hardish red stoneware, which is familiar to collectors in the unglazed buccaro ware teapots and other vessels. When, therefore, collectors come across specimens with a glaze resembling those of Chun Chou but with a red stoneware body, they are probably confronted with an Yi-hsing product made by Ou or more probably by one of his successors. The examples usually met with are of a dark blue or purplish hue flecked with red streaks, and bear a close resemblance to certain types of Chun yao.But comfort may be sought in the remark quoted above, " they do not wear well."The glaze seems to be of a softish nature and scratches and rubbings are often apparent, which, with the characteristic body colour, help detection.Mr. Hobson assists us further by suggesting that a concave base in place of a hollowed-out foot and foot-rim, together with a stoppage of the glaze just short of the base in an even regular line instead of a wavy line, are characteristics of Yi-hsing potting.

But we are not at the end of imitation Chuns.

The Kuangtung factories were early imitators of the Chiin glazes; in particular the factory at Fat-shan, which is close to Canton, produced wares which bear a family likeness. The deception is heightened by the bases of the specimens being often incised with numerals in imitation of the Chun Chou practice. But to my mind these copies are easier to detect than the Yi-hsing specimens : the Kuangtung body is distinctive with its dark grey colour, and the glaze has neither the fatness nor the kind of blue opalescence exhibited by the Chun yao.Some of the mottled glazed examples of Kuangtung ware, which have arrived in this country direct from China, have been styled Sung specimens. There is every reason to believe that the Canton factories were established at a very early date; in fact, they were operative in the Tang dynasty; but these reputed Sung Kuangtung wares are not in the least convincing to the Western eye, and they bear the closest resemblance to the seventeenth and eighteenth century products, of which a considerable number can be found without difficulty.Their shape frequently takes the form of baluster vases, which are certainly not typical of the Sung period. I may be thought to be giving too lengthy a description of these reputed Sung specimens from the South; but as the early Kuangtung wares do not form a sufficiently important group to merit separate reference, the present article seems a fitting place to dispose of them. One cannot meet repeatedly specimens of this ware attributed by the Chinese to Sung times, without taking the statements into consideration. No doubt the Chinese dealer puts a Sung label on his consignments to enhance their appreciation on this side in the eyes of the unwary or unscrupulous; but the statements are persisted in, despite scepticism from those whose opinions carry weight in China. Like the butterman of immortal memory,' the Chinese presumably know something about their own goods, and native opinion cannot be dismissed lightly. We may yet be convinced of the Sung origin of some of the Kuang yao, which at present is put to the credit of seventeenth and eighteenth century potters.

Lastly we have to deal with the imitations of Chun yao made at Ching-te Chen in the eighteenth century during the reign of Yung Cheng (I723-I735). The Imperial factories at Ching-te Chen no doubt made reproductions of the early wares from original specimens sent from the palace by various Emperors, but it was apparently in the reign of Yung Cheng that the best efforts were made in this direction. The lists of porcelains made at the Imperial factories about 1730 furnish full particulars of the different glazes made in imitation of the Chun effects, and the results are strikingly beautiful. There was no fraudulent intention in these copies; for, though the white porcelain which composed the body was dressed with ferruginous clay to give the " iron foot," the dressing was added to put the piece in keeping with its prototype. The fact that specimens often bear the nien hao of Yung Gheng in seal characters incised on their bases proves the bona fides of the potter. But while the original maker was not intending to deceive, subsequent owners sometimes have had that intention, for some of these Yung Cheng copies, on which the tell-tale nien hao has been inscribed, have had their seal ground off and the white porcelain redisguised by brown varnish.

Judged by glaze effect alone, these replicas are extremely hard to detect; there is a quality about the glaze of the best examples which is baffling: in fact, as articles of beauty they are highly desirable and approach more nearly to the perfection of the Sung glazes than do, perhaps, any other later imitations of the early wares. No great difficulty exists, however, in determining their provenance, for the body is never disguised to a degree which prevents detection.

More serious trouble is caused by imitations made on a pottery or earthenware body both in China and Japan; some of these bear such a close resemblance to the Chun wares of the sha t'ai type that collectors need to be cautious. The finish of the foot is often suspicious, and there is an unconvincing atmosphere about them which will help the collector, after experience of the real article and of the spurious.

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