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Oriental Porcelain According To Order Of Discovery

( Originally Published 1911 )

OUR first task will be to classify the porcelain according to the order of its discovery, and in this relation we shall be largely guided by form and colour, which in the oldest pieces is naturally less diversified than in the later. Perhaps the oldest pottery is that improperly called boccaro, owing to its resemblance to the pottery which, in Portugal, bore this name, and as we shall see presently the Portuguese were the first to visit the land of far Cathay. The colours on boccaro ware are very varied—and some imitate bronze. Many coloured enamels cover other pieces with a dense glaze which completely hides the shape or body. These pieces are usually moulded, but examples have been found where the decoration has been cut with a tool in the paste when wet. Other specimens have been carved in the paste after it had been dried in the sun.

The second class in order of age would be white porcelain made of kaolins from different districts, which gave different tints to the white, and unequal densities to the ware, some being heavy and some light. Possibly the light ware of this period gave rise to the idea of soft paste. The white itself varies in tint from a fine creamy glaze, which is very beau tiful, called " blanc de chine." Then there is a bluish white called " white of snow," and a plain white called "white of flour." The creamy white is valued very highly by the Chinese themselves, and " Franks" mentions an instance where a Hong Kong merchant, after making many magnificent presents to an English gentleman, gave him as an object of great value a white cup of this kind enclosed in a case lined with silk. This "blanc de chine" was highly esteemed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, especially in France and Spain. It is interesting to notice that this kind of white ware was imitated by the early makers of European porcelain at St. Cloud and Chelsea, and many of these specimens of white hard paste have been ascribed to Plymouth, which, with Bristol, was the only factory to make hard paste in England. The Chelsea imitation of an Oriental teapot with raised flowers is the one which has the noted mark of the raised anchor on a tablet.

With regard to colour applied under the glaze, blue was the first to be so employed. Cobalt had a facility for cohering with the body itself, therefore it was utilised for decoration before the glaze was applied. Sometimes the transparent white glaze was replaced by a blue tinted glaze. In that case, the blue decoration, applied under the glaze by painting on the body of the ware itself, could be easily seen through the blue glaze. Red, derived from copper,' was applied under the glaze, sometimes alone, sometimes with blue, forming the decoration of two colours under the glaze. With these colours used under the glaze, as with the blue alone, the blue tinted glaze was frequently substituted for the transparent glaze. This red was the red derived from copper. At about the same period the reds, derived from iron and gold, were applied as enamel colours upon the glaze at a lower temperature than that used in the main kiln. The second kiln was called a " muffle " kiln. The glaze and the enamel colours were both melted by the heat in the muffle kiln, but the body was not affected. Direct heat was not required, but the melting process was sufficient to unite the glaze itself and the enamel colours so firmly that in some cases the coloured enamel might be taken for the glaze. Generally, however, these enamel colours project far enough from the covering glaze as to be easily felt by the finger.

Next followed the use of gold applied to decorations on the black--"famille noire "—and green families or on other enamels. Amongst the most beautiful of these enamels was the green, which was applied upon the glaze by the fire of the " muffle " furnace. This colour was derived from copper, and is called " vent de cuivre." It soon held a high place in the scheme of decoration of vases, plates, and dishes, as well as figures of the highest quality, and is recognised as a distinct family," la famille verte." But whilst the reds and the greens were enamelled on the glaze, blue was still employed for decoration under the glaze. These "families" are separately dealt with and illustrated.

In order of the discovery of the colours next comes violet from manganese, and the yellows from cadmium and iron, creating a new series, which is termed the yellow family, "la famille jaune." All these yellows were enamel colours, but they were not often used alone. Sometimes there is a combination of two groups, as green and yellow or ;Teen and red. These have been classified as "jaune verte" and " rose verte." We simply refer to these names in case any of our readers should come across them in the descriptive catalogue or in books dealing with Oriental porcelain. Perhaps the most beautiful of all the enamel colours applied to Oriental porcelain is the rose, a red derived from gold. Bearing in mind that we are roughly tracing the age of the colours, that is, the period of their application, this rose red would bring us to the Yung-ching and Keenlung periods Enriched as the Chinese potters were by this superb tint, they simply revelled in dominating their productions with it. It is classified as the rose family, "la famille rose." To these periods belong the beautiful class of pink back plates, to which further reference will be made later.

Onward from this time, the trading relations between Europe and China becoming more and more intimate, foreign influences began to make themselves felt in the Chinese potteries; in fact, the Europeans demanded and paid for European shapes and European designs, so that European subjects were reproduced with more or less fidelity, and " armorial " porcelain, on which the arms or crests of European families were painted in enamel on vases, table services, and decorative pieces of various kinds.

At this period, too, we find evidences of the influence of the Christian missionaries in China, as shown by the religious subjects enamelled or painted on plates, such subjects, for instance, as " The Crucifixion " and other scenes of biblical history. We have stated that the decoration was modified to meet the wants of the European market, and we note also that the various shapes were also modified to suit that market. The Chinese used saucer-shaped dishes, but these were largely replaced, for exportation only, by dishes and plates with rims, so that we finally reach the last class, the porcelain called " East India Company " china, decorated with subjects not armorial, nor scriptural, but European. The Chinese themselves were faithful copyists, imitating exactly the pattern from which they had to work. We shall deal with this subject more fully in a later chapter.

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