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A Short History Of Poreclain

( Originally Published 1911 )

PERHAPS what we have said will inspire our readers with the desire to know something of the origin of the potter's art in China. This cannot be definitely fixed. It is lost in antiquity. Far back, centuries before the Christian era, possibly when Egyptian civilisation was at its height, legendary history refers to the invention of pottery and, indeed, places the invention of pottery thousands of years B.C. We have no definite information as to what was made, but we may fairly assume that in those remote times the vessels made were only course clay, rude in form, sun-dried or badly baked in an open fire. Then, possibly, the first efforts at glazing were produced and ornamented, the surface was decorated by drawings with a stick in transverse scratches or concentric rings, and simple bits of clay stuck on to the soft surface formed the first applied ornament, gradually developing, and ever far in advance of Western barbarism. The manufacture reaches the period where actual records were available during the Wei dynasty, 220 A.D., when two potteries were recorded as making porcelain for Imperial use. The string of dynasties which follows have but slight interest for the collector. The marks we give (see Marks) range from the Sung dynasty, 96o A.D., to the Tsing dynasty, which came into power in 1644 and continues to the present day. Though we read of porcelain blue as the sky, shining as the looking-glass, thin as paper, giving a sound like a musical stone, we could scarcely hope to find a specimen after the lapse of so many hundred years. Besides, if we did, the piece would be unique and even the experts would doubt its identity. Still, the tiny fragments of this precious ware are recognised in China, and are so valuable that the Chinese have them mounted as personal ornaments.

The first of the dynasties shown in our list has a real claim for consideration, that is, the Sung dynasty, which lasted from 96o to 1279 A.D. The Emperor Chin-tsung, who reigned from 954 to 1007 A.D., adopted as his title name, or nien hao, on coming to the throne, King-te, and he founded the royal manufactory at Chang-nan-Chin, henceforward known as King-te-chin. This city remained for many centuries the greatest manufactory of Chinese porcelain. Here, then, we have definite history of a city in the Chinese provinces of Kiang-si, with a present population of 500,000, in which porcelain has been manufactured for centuries, and where :he manufacturing is still carried on, although, through wars and insurrections, the work has now and then been suspended for varying periods. There were numerous other factories in thirteen other provinces, notably in Ho-nan, which had no less than thirteen. Historical incidents occur which show that Oriental porcelain was by slow degrees making its way West-wards. Saladin (1137 to 1193), Sultan of Egypt and Syria, who defended Acre for two years against the Crusaders, sent forty pieces of finest porcelain to Nur-ed-din Mahmud, who recovered Syria from the Crusaders. That celebrated Venetian traveller and author, Marco Polo, writing in 1280, described a visit to a Chinese factory, and stated that the porcelain was exported all over the world. The Yuen dynasty (1279-1367) saw the advent of Roman Catholic missionaries and Florentine traders. They came to Pekin and Hang-chow ; and far off Cathay, the land of mystery, romance, and poetry, first made acquaintance with the Western barbarians. We read of porcelain of this period having been moulded, modelled, and painted with flowers. The most noted potter, Pung, was not famous for his own individual work of designing new forms or inventing new colours, but for copying the older wares, and we shall never have an opportunity of seeing his work, which, though beautiful, was very thin and brittle.

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