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Oriental China - Yung Ching Period (1723-1736)

( Originally Published 1911 )



THE Yung-Ching period (1723-1736), though only thirteen short years, was peculiarly noteworthy, because the Emperor himself took a personal interest in the Imperial factories at King-te-chin, and also in the head of the establishment, Hien-Hsiyao, who, in 1727, was entrusted with the management. In porcelain much depends upon the potting, and in the actual potting the products of Yung-Ching were far superior to any that had before appeared. The drawing, too, was in every way better, the colours, though not so brilliant, showed such care and taste in blending that even the fine "famille verte" suffers by comparison. As a rule, the decoration was so applied that the porcelain could be admired—that is, the whole surface was not covered by the ornamentation. In some of the smaller pieces the result of this plan is beyond all praise. Only one product suffered. The blue was far inferior to that of Kang-he.

We have already praised the quality of the cobalt applied as decoration to vases, ginger jars, &c., of the Kang-he period. As if to balance this default the rose colour from gold was discovered, which gave birth to the rose family, "famille rose." Other products which had their beginnings in this reign are worthy of notice. First there was a black decorated with colour, mainly with arabesques or curl work. The porcelain was of fine quality and the scheme of colour so subdued as to be entirely pleasing to the eye, the black being relieved by pattern in faint green and further decorated in white, pale yellow, and aubergine of such an admirable character that one wonders why Yung-ching porcelain is not more appreciated. Still the rose decoration begun so successfully in this period, under the succeeding Emperor, received such attention as placed it in the front rank of Oriental porcelain In fact, we may say more. Collectors of the rose family care nothing for Ming with its greens and yellows, nothing for Kang-he with its "famille verte" and black, but they esteem and value above all the "famille rose," the Yung-ching chef d'oeuvre, which we shall deal with later when we come to Keen-lung. The pieces of the Yung-cling period, decorated with blue under the glaze with enamel in colour over the glaze, exhibited the same distinctive features which typical china of this period showed—that is, excellent potting and a skilful blending of the under-glaze blue with the enamel colours over the glaze. There is this noteworthy distinction, too, the decoration on the backs of bowls and dishes is almost equal to that on the front. This is a helpful hint, to which careful note should be given.

Perhaps one of the most puzzling and at the same time interesting forms of decoration was the blue used in conjunction with peach bloom. These specimens were ornamented with combinations of three lines either long or bissected, called the Pa-kwa, the single mark forming a trigram essentially male if the long lines were in the ascendant, and female when the half lines were most numerous. The later marks or symbolical devices will deal more fully with the Pa-kwa. Peach-bloom was undoubtedly first introduced in the reign of Kang-he, and the really valuable and fine examples belong to this period only. It is altogether a misleading term to those who are not experts, who expect to find the delicate pink of the peach blossom or flower. Peach bloom is nothing of this kind. Imagine a dark reddish brown of unusual but beautiful tone pierced through its surface in flecks of dark green and spots of pink such as the flower would be when the first touch of spring coaxed it from the dark-coloured sepal with flecks of green and a touch of pink. It is the colour of the bud when the peach begins to bloom, not the pink of the peach blossom so prettily tinted with yellow. Peach bloom and "clair de lune" are the two very finest self-colours which take precedence even of "sang de bauf." We shall have occasion to occur to this again in the chapter on self-colours.

The next class is black with coral red under the glaze ; in fact, two colours are found under the glaze in the Yung-ching period, blue and red. The red is of a brilliant tone, not so striking as the red from gold, but still very lovely in its combination with blue. Sometimes these two are used together with added enamel colours, but frequently in under-glaze decoration that favourite ornament, the five-clawed dragon in pursuit of the crystal ball or pearl, may be found. The circular device ball or pearl showing the Yang and the Yin, signs for the male and the female elements in nature, were at this period raised on the surface, and in over-glaze enamels both the waves and the clouds were tinted with various shades of green and purple and aubergine edged with black.

We have already referred to the rose family, in which the enamel decoration was most carefully and artistically carried out in all its detail. The preponderating influence was a brilliant rose colour accompanied by green, yellow, and blue, all in enamel colours, which were not less striking because still subordinate to the beautiful pink. When waves were used in the decoration they were of a charming sea-green Celadon enamel. The blue painted under the glaze has already been referred to as being inferior in quality, in colour and brilliance to the products of Kang-he. In fact, we must repeat that no blue and white was ever equal to the Kanghe ginger jars and vases decorated with the prunus pattern, usually called the hawthorn, with the lip unglazed on the outside and partly glazed on the inside.

Present day potters produce blue and white ginger jars, but the blue of Kang-he is unapproachable, the paste is exquisite, and the glaze is in-comparable. The Yung-ching potters did well in blue and white, and the blues, though less brilliant, were very bright and pleasing. The distinctive feature of the period is that the borders of the vases were incised after the manner of the Ming blue and white, a pattern which appears at no other periods. . Let us try to explain this. About an inch from the top of the vases there is an incised pattern, a pattern cut in double incised lines, altogether forming a band about half an inch wide. A similar incised band is found round the base. Yung-ching blue, and white often has a decoration of rocks, waves and curious conventional ground in blue of a carefully painted peach-tree springing from the rocks, painted blossoms of a rich red tone with reddish or yellowish brown spots distributed over the white as if to emphasise the form of the decoration. The contrast between the delicacy of the detail is striking when compared with the broad treatment of the Kang-he period. On the one hand there is fine stipple work. This is Yung-ching. On the other hand there is a broad, bold wash of colour. This is Kang-he. One of the most effective forms of decoration is what is widely known as powder or powdered blue, in which the cobalt was sprayed through gauze or dabbed either upon the whole surface, or upon all of the surface except that which by mechanical means was reserved. Students of Oriental china will often come across the expression " painted in reserves or compartments." By this is meant that the scheme of decoration of the whole surface has been so far modified that certain panels have been left in white for further decoration. Hence we get reserves of various shapes with varying decorations — powder blue vases with reserves decorated in blue ; powder blue vases with reserves decorated in "famille verte," and so on. The apparently granulated surface of the powder blue is due to the colour having been blown through the fine gauze or dabbed on the whole portion that was not reserved.

Celadon was brought to great perfection in this reign. Not only the various tints of green usually known by that name, and not only the brilliant white Celadon glaze with raised decoration in which a Celadon green is effectively employed, but various glazes in which the colour, being applied in the glaze, was included in the same term Celadon. The decoration, often floral, was noted for its subdued tones of pink, mauve, red, and orange. Vases of the Ming dynasty, especially the Suen-tih and Ching-hwa periods, were copied and recopied in every detail. Beautiful bowls were largely made with Celadon or coral grounds, with figures or other ornaments in coloured enamel; sometimes reserves or compartments in white had special treatment of figure decoration. Other specimens imitated jade or agate or cornelian or some other stone. The well-known pale green Celadon is the only one known to the trade by the name Celadon. Red or blue Celadons would be classed under self-colours.

We have noted the green family, "farnille verte," of Kang-he. The Yung-ching products of the same class differ from it in the quality of the colours used. The green enamel itself was much thinner and not so brilliant ; it often had a blue shade, but it too was applied as an enamel in con-junction with the under - glaze blue decoration. Instead of the reds from copper the reds from iron were effectively used. A colouring like the red of rusty iron was used in several shades, ranging from an orange red to a bright orange, or even to a salmon pink. Other colours in soft tones were used, but a chief point to remember is that whilst the design was usually drawn in blue under the glaze, all the enamel colours were applied over the glaze, so that a blue tinge is conspicuous, and it is a help to identification.

A reference was made earlier to the rose family. This was a red from gold, and perhaps its highest development is seen in the brilliant ruby-back plates of the Yung-ching and Keen-lung periods. This colour had its origin in Yung-ching's short reign, and the shades of it vary from pink to purple. As enamel, the rose colour is most wonderfully applied to flowers, drapery, &c., and really it is far more decorative than the green, the powder blue, or indeed any other colour. It has their artistic merit, and the additional one of being a soft and most attractive tint, if green represents the leaves, rose pictures the flowers; and perhaps the most lovely combination is " rose verte," where both of these are used in harmony.



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