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Song Porcelain


The Song Dynasty saw the introduction of many new folk kilns ceramics form and Imperial Court's involvement in the production of ceramics for the palace use.  

Song porcelain ware is an epitome of aesthetic perfection.  Generations of potters have drawn and will continue to draw inspirations from Song ceramics creations.  The elegance of the form of the vessels achieved was superb.  The aesthetic beauty of jade -like celadon glaze of ru/guan/longquan reached unsurpassed perfection and delicacy.  The icy bluish beauty Qingbai glaze has enchanted generations of porcelain collectors.  The carved/impressed decorations of Yaozhou and Ding wares reigned supreme. 

The ingenuity and creativity of the Cizhou and Jizhou potters was also amazing.  They were able to overcome the limitations of poor quality raw material for porcelain making and came out with innovative and aesthetically wonderful products.  The use of white slip to whiten the body and further using it as a decorative element for sgrafitto design was brilliant.  Building on the foundation of the celadon underglaze iron-pigment brown/black decoration of the earlier era, the cizhou kilns further developed the underglaze iron-pigment motif on white ground.  It became a main-stream product until it was overtaken by blue and white in the Ming dynasty and marginalised in the Qing Dynasty.   The jizhou potters were able to work on a dark and a lighter colour glaze to achieve great products such as the tortoise's shell/tiger's fur effect and paper cut motifs.

The potential of the copper oxide was finally realised in the dazzling beauty of rainbow-like purplish/red splashes on blue ground of Jun wares.  The ever inexhaustible potential of iron-pigment for amazing decorative effect was proudly displayed in the form of the temmoku hares' fur and oil spots.

It was also a period of commercial liberalisation and huge growth in overseas trade which was encouraged by the imperial court.  Southern Song emperor Gazong (高宗) declared that it would lighten the burden of his subjects by increasing the state coffers through taxation on foreign trade instead of various form of personal taxes.   An important development was the large number of kilns that were set up in the coastal region in Guangdong and Fujian to produce porcelains for the Southeast Asia market.  The coastal kilns made use of their proximity to the port, Guangdong Guangzhou during the Tan/Song period and Fujian Quanzhou during the Southern Song/Yuan period to produce lower end copies of Yue, Longquan celadon, Jingdezhen Qingbai and Jian temmoku wares to meet overseas demand. For more on Guangdong and Fujian trade ceramics, please read below:

Tang/Song Guangdong trade ceramics

Song/Yuan Fujian trade ceramics

Song Jun, Ru and guan wares

An important development during the Northern Song period was the setting up of official kilns to produce ceramics for the Imperial palace.  During the Northern Song period, Jun and Ru wares , both a form of celadon, were produced. 

The Jun kilns at Baguadong (八卦洞)and Juntai (钧台)were located in Yu county (禹县)in Henan.  The Jun kiln used iron and copper oxides to fire an opacified bluish glaze with red or purplish splashes.  Vessels included flower pots, washers, dishes, censor, bowls, zun and etc.  Some of the flower pots/stands  have number (1-10) carved on their base.  It has been established that the number is an indication of the size.  Some vessels also have inscription such as fenghua (风华)and sheng fu (省府)。  [Guan Jun is however still a controversial subject with some experts questioning the Northern Song attribution.]

Folk kilns in Henan also produced Jun wares but the number of Song/Jin wares excavated were few.  The best Jun from the folk kilns were produced at Liu Jiamen (刘家门)。  For more discussion on Jun wares, please read this.

Ru wares were produced in Baofeng Qingliangsi (宝丰清凉寺)in Henan. They usually have a light sky-blue colour with tiny spur marks on the outer base. Vessel forms consisted of mainly dishes, washers, bowls and some archaic zun vase, lian-form censers and vases. Some vessels also have the inscription fenghua (风华).

During the Southern Song Period, two officially operated kilns were built at Xiuneisi (修内司)and Jiaotanxia (郊坛下)with the former in operation first. They consisted of jade-like thick glaze with powdered bluish or yellowish colour tone.  The best have very thick multi-layered glaze and biscuit thin body. Majority hawever has glaze crazing. The body is  iron black in colour tone. 


For more on the guanwares, please read : Song Guan Wares .


Yue/Longquan greenware (celadon)

During the early Northern Song period, Yue ware was still an important source of greenware. The products of this period is characterised by fine incised motifs covering floral, bird, phoenix, dragon and human motif.  A form of more deeply carved combined with incised style of decoration was introduced during the Mid Northern Song Period and continued to be used during the rest of the Northern Song Period.  By this period, Yue ware has declined in quality and quantity andl ceased production by early Southern Song period.

Longquan of the Northern Song essentially copied the Yue carved/combed motifs.  It was only towards the late/mid Southern Song period that Longquan developed its famous powder green (粉青) and mei zi qing (梅子青) (plum green) glaze. The ware is characterised by multi-layer glaze application.   Longquan potters also produced some guan-type black body wares during the late southern Song period.


The carved/combed  longquan motif was widely adopted by the Fujian kilns during the late Northern Song/early Southern Song period.  It was an important export item and was termed Tongan (同安) type greenware or Juko (shuko seiji) (珠光青瓷)greenware in Japan.  Shuko was a Japanese monk who was known for his preference for Tongan type greenware for tea ceremony.

For more on Longquan celadon, please read: Longquan Celadon

For more on Longquan influenced Fujian greenware, please read: Fujian Trade Ceramics

Yaozhou (耀州) Greenware

Yaozhou established itself as the greatest Northern Celadon (greenware) production centre during the Northern Song Period.  The most famous and central production site was Huangbao (黄堡at Tongchuan Shanxi (铜川陕西).  Some later sites that emerged included Chenluzhen (陈炉镇), Lidipo (立地坡)and Shangdian (上店).  Yaozhou greenware was famous for the carved motif with strong 3 dimensional visual effect.  An interesting characteristic of Yaozhou wares is the ginger-yellow scotched marks on the base and at the footring. After Mid Northern Song, elaborate impressed motifs were introduced and gradually became the more dorminent products.  The impressed motifs were varied and consisted of flowers, dragon, phoenix, fish, makara, flying fairies, infants and etc.  Yaozhou greenware continued to be produced during the Jin period and gradually ceased during the Yuan period.  During the Jin period, an important Yue bai (月白)(moon-white) glaze was introduced.


Yaozhou type greenwares were also produced in Henan kilns such as those in  Linru (临汝)Xinan Cheng Guan (新安城关) and Baofeng (宝丰).  They are very similar to the Yaozhou production but are generally of poorer quality. 

For more on Yaozhou greenware, please read: Yaozhou Celadon


Ding ware (定窑)

Ding kiln was located in Jiancicun (涧磁村) in Quyang county (曲阳).  The kiln started production during the Tang period and achieved great fame during the Northern Song and Jin period for its ivory white glaze and finely carved and later even more famous impressed motifs. It was at one point an important tribute ware to the Imperial court during the Northern Song period.  

One of the most important contributions of the Ding potters was the invention of the inverted firing Method.  It was subsequently adopted by many kilns including Jingdezhen. This method enabled more pieces to be fired in the kiln.  It however required the removal of glaze at the rim. 


Ding type white wares were also produced in Pingding (平定) in shanxi (山西) province.

For more on Ding ware, please read: Ding ware


Qingbai (Yingqing) ware 

Qingbai, meaning bluish white ware, was first produced in Fanchang in Anhui (繁昌安徽).  The best Qingbai wares were however produced in Hutian kilns  (湖田) near Jingdezhen. The carved motif on Song Qingbai wares was excellent.  The pooling of the bluish glaze in carved area of the motif enhances and brings out the profile of the motif nicely.  Impressed motifs were popular during the Southern Song and Yuan Period.  


Qingbai wares in British Museum

Qingbai was an enormously popular product and were produced in numerous kilns in Jiangxi in areas around Jingdezhen, Nanfeng (南丰) and also provinces such as Anhui, Zhejiang, Fujian and Guangdong.

Qingbai ware was an important export item during the Song/Yuan period.

For more on Qingbai ware, please read: Qingbai (Yingqing) wares


Cizhou ware 

Cizhou kilns are located in Guantai (观台) and Pengcheng (彭城)area in Hebei.  Its main products consisted of whiteware, blackware and wares with underglaze iron black/brown decoration on white ground.  The iron pigment painted decoration first appeared in late 3 Kingdom period and some rare examples were made by the Yue kilns.   But it was only during the Song period that it was popularised by the cizhou and cizhou type kilns and was produced even to this day.  The white glaze was able to show off the iron brown decoration distinctively and attractively.

Other famous  decorative types included incised/carved and sgraffito motif.


There are numerous other kilns located in Hebei, Henan (some famous ones such as Dangyangyu kiln (当阳峪),Hebiji kiln (鹤壁集),pa chu kiln (扒村),Dengfeng kiln (登封),  Ningxia Lingwu kiln (宁夏灵武),Inner Mongolia Chifeng kiln (赤峰)Shanxi Jie xiu (介休) and ping ding (平定) kiln which produced similar wares.  There are definitely some local stylistic decorative differences and also in terms of shape/form and glaze and paste  appearance.  Yet one can still discern that they are unmistakably cizhou in character especially in terms of the decorative techniques.  Hence, they are widely termed as cizhou type wares.  

Dangyangyu kiln (当阳峪) in Henan also produced a famous marbled ware with wood grain pattern, pheasant's wing pattern or feather pattern.  Other Henan kilns producing such product included Qingliangsi in Baofeng (清凉寺宝丰)and Chengguan in Xinan (城关新安).


For more on Cizhou ware, please read: Cizhou wares


Overglaze enamelled Wares

The overglaze enamelled red, green and yellow motif on white glaze ware was an important new decorative type introduced during the Song period.  Most extant pieces were from the Hebei cizhou, Henan pacun (扒村) and Shanxi Changzhi kiln (山西长治) and shandong zibo (山东淄博).  The decoration was drawn on the high fired white glaze vessel.  Upon completion, it went through a second low firing of about 800 degree centigrade to fix the enamels on the white glaze surface.  The vessels consisted of mainly bowls, dishes and human figurines.  In fact, black enamel was used for the eye brow and eyes of figurines from pacun kiln.

There were further development of overglaze enamelled wares during the Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasty and subsequent became the widely known Ming/Qing wucai . 


Black wares

Jian (temmoku/Tianmu) ware

Jian black wares were made in Jian kilns situated in shuiji Jianyang (水吉建阳) in Fujian province.  Its major products were black glazed tea bowls with purplish black paste.  The most famous type had hare's furs effect on it.  The hare's furs are streaks which are either brownish or silvery white in colour.   Some highly priced type have bluish irridescent oil-spots of different sizes and shapes in the glaze.Those made for the palace had the inscribed chinese characters gongyu (供御) or jinzhan (进盏) mark.

Tea contest was popular during the Song Dynasty.  Jian tea bowls were considered most suitable for such contest as its glossy black surface contrasted well with the white  tea.

During the Song Dynasty, the monasteries in the Tianmu mountains were frequently visit by Japanese monks who took the black tea bowls used in the monasteries with them when they returned home.  Hence black tea bowls came to be known as Tianmu (temmoku) in Japan.

Jian tea bowls were in high demand during the Song Dynasty and numerous kilns in Fujian also produced them to meet the demand.  There were also other kilns in provinces such as Zhejiang, Jizhou and sichuan which produced them.

Such bowls continued to be produced for sometime into the Yuan period.

For more information on Fujian temmoku, please read: Jian ware


Jizhou ware

Jizhou kiln is situated in Yonghe (永和)in Ji'an (吉安)in Jiangxi province.  During the Southern Song period, Jizhou kiln developed a distinctive decorative technique which involved sprinkling a lighter glaze over a darker base glaze to produce the so called the tortoise shell and tiger fur effects.  They may have a dry mouldy mottled quality or could be more transparent and glossy if fired at a higher temperature.  There were many other varieties of  mottled effect.

The Jizhou potters also used paper cuttings  for decorations. The openwork stencils of cut paper was positioned on the  dark glaze surface.  A lighter glaze is then sprinkled over the whole surface.  A black design on a lighter colour mottled background is produced when the paper cutting is removed.   Some more commonly found papercut designs include plum blossom, floral spray, dragon, and phoenix.  There are also those with rhomboid patterns and 4 Chinese characters such as "fu shou kang ning " (福寿康宁) ie  fortune, longevity, health and peace  or "chang ming fu gui " (长命富贵) ie long life and prosperity.

During the late Song period, Jizhou also produced the underglaze iron-brown cizhou type painted motifs vessels.

For more on Jizhou ware, please read: Jizhou wares


Northern China black/brown wares

Northern kilns such as those in Henan and Hebei also produced beautiful oil spots black glaze tea bowl.  The Yaozhou and Ding black and brown "Zijin" (紫金) glaze wares were also excellent.  

Henan kilns also made black wares with iron rust effect design of floral/bird and splashed design.  The black glaze was first applied and then the design painted over the glazed surface using iron-rich pigment.  The ware was fired at about 1300 degree centigrade and the iron pigment transformed into haematite crystals which is rust red in colour.


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