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Shufu (Luan bai) wares
Yingqing (qingbai) glaze was first introduced during the Northern Song period and was very popular during the Song period and continued to be produced during the Yuan dynasty. In yingqing glaze, the glaze ash proportion in the glaze is high. Glaze ash is rich in calcium and magnesium oxide, both of which are fluxing agent which lower the melting temperature of glaze. Hence, yingqing glaze has low viscosity and the glaze application is thin to prevent overflowing problem. There is minimum unmelted quartz particles in the glaze and hence looks transparent and shows its clear and light bluish tone well.
During the Yuan dynasty, a new glaze with reduced glaze ash proportion of 10% as compared with about 30% in Yingqing glaze was introduced. Because this type of glaze has a higher viscosity, the glaze application can be thicker. The reduction in the fluxing agents also resulted in more un-melted quartz particles and some fine silicia in the glaze stone remain un-dissolved. Hence, they cause scattering of light and the glaze looks opaque and matted with a softer white or white/light bluish colour tone. The term luan bai (卵白) meaning goose egg white was used to describe such colour tone. Most of the vessels, consisting of bowls and dishes, using this glaze formula were made in Hutian kilns which were located outside Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province. Some of the bowls and dishes have molded relief motif and the two Chinese characters shu fu (枢府) meaning "Privy council". Hence, wares with such glaze type were also termed shufu wares. Besides shufu, other characters included "tai xi" (太禧) (meaning great happiness and "fu lu" (福禄) meaning good fortune and emolument could be found. However, majority have just either plain or molded relief motif of flowers, dragon or phoenix. Such vessels are typically more thickly potted and for the bowls/dishes, there is pooling of glaze at the inner and outer mouth rim.
The starting date for production of shufu is still uncertain. In the the Sinan wreck of about A.D 1325, there were some shufu wares. Some excavated examples in China with the word "tai xi" were probably made for the the official institution, Taixi Zongyin Yuan [太禧宗禋院] which dealt with religious rites of the imperial court. It was set up in A.D. 1328. Hence, they should be made at least after A.D. 1328. A small number of shufu wares continued to be made in the Hongwu period. The glaze was subsequently further improved and a pleasing sugary white glaze known as Tianbai [甜白] was produced during the Yongle period.
Shufu example dated to Hongwu period
Recently, there was a shipwreck discovered in the sea near Java in Indonesia with cargo consisting of many shufu wares. I have selected some examples of dishes and bowls to show the varying glaze tone and look. The colour could range from sugary white to slight whitish light bluish tone. Some have more transparent glaze but still share the common charateristics of form, thick glaze which pooled at the rim. Possible reasons for the greater transparency could be such pieces were fired at a higher temperature or there was a higher than usual proportion of glaze ash. Hence, despite such differences, essentially they should still be classified as shufu wares.
The below centre dish has a thinner and more transparent glaze than those on typical shufu wares. The form is the typical shufu type and it still has the pooling of glaze at the rim. I am of the view that this is a unsuccessfully made piece shufu dish. The potters aspired to a glaze that is thick and matted as shown on the majority of typical shufu wares. This particular piece revealed a dirty tone body especially where the glaze is thin. Nigel Wood in his book "Chinese Glazes" noted that the shufu porcelains "were made from the new albeite-rich body stone mixed with added kaolin... Despite the changes the shufu bodies are actually less pure than the earlier yingqing wares - due to the the higher titania contents of the shufu clays, -- and it is possible that the semi-opaque shufu glazes were developed to disguise this fact".
The early Yuan blue and white has a shufu type glaze. Analysis of the glaze on later Yuan blue and white shows that the glaze ash has been increased again and the final proportion is somewhere between shufu and Yingqing. It has a more transparent and clearer colour tone. The ash portion cannot be the same as Yingqing glaze as it's low viscosity would cause greater flow of the glaze and would cause the blue cobalt to spread and blur the motif.
Shufu with decorations
Some shufu wares were decorated with overglaze red/green motif. A very rare type was the embossed effect motif created by trailing the outline of motif with coloured-slip and completed with in-laid gold. Most the the examples in existent are in Shanghai museum. The enamels consisted of red, green, yellow, white, blue and torquose blue colour. Vessels with such unique decorative techniques consisted of bowls, saucers, stem cups/bowls and, yuhuchun vases and censers.
Written by : NK Koh (28 Feb 2008)