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Yaozhou Greenware (Celadon) 耀州窑
Yaozhou kilns commenced production during the Tang dynasty in Huangbao town, Tongchuan prefecture, Shanxi Province (黄堡镇铜川县陕西省). The early monochrome high fired yellow, white, green, brown and black glaze vessels were similar to those made in Northern China kilns of Hebei and Henan. The potters also introduced some unique new decorative innovations such as those biscuit form with brown/black glaze decoration.
It also produced an unique form of green glaze wares with carved decoration inlaid with white slip. This interesting decorative form did not gain popularity domestically but instead was adopted by the Korean potters and became a distinctive Korean ceramics.
Ewer with inlaid slip decoration in Yaozhou Museum
Yaozhou's teadust glaze vessels were also particularly good compared with those from other Northern China kilns.
It was also another important production site for low fired lead glaze Tang Sancai (tri-colour) wares
During the 5 Dynasties, the focus shifted to production of greenwares and by Northern Song became the most important Northern China greenware production centre. The paste is fine and the glaze has a clear, transparent and silky texture. Many varieties of vessels were produced: including bowls, dishes, plates, cups, boxes, pillows, vases, ewers, lamps, burners, inkstone, water droppers, Chinese chess pieces (Weiqi) etc. as well as large quantities of porcelain sculptures of sheep, dogs, horses, lions, infants, dwarfs, Buddhist deities, etc.
5 Dynasties Period
Just like many kilns of the period, the Yaozhou celadon vessels copied the form of gold and silver wares. The influence of the famous and dominent Yue greenware is apparent. The colour varies from light greyish green, light green, powdery green and light bluish green Some bowls came with the character guan (官) inscribed on the outer base which suggested some form of official connection.
The foot is wide and ring- shaped in form. The more fine ones has fully glazed splayed foot ring. Spur marks is found on the outer base. Majority however are of the type with glaze removed from the underside of the foot. As the paste of majority of the greenware have more coarse paste, it is coated with a layer of slip to improve the surface before glazing.
5 Dynasties Yaozhou Plate in Shanghai Museum
Some of the most attractive Yaozhou wares of 5 Dynasties are vessels with sgrafitto decoration. The technique essentially requires the ground outside the motif to be reduced by shaving. This gives the motif a sharp and embossed effect. This was not a new technique but used in some contemporary Yue wares.
Northern Song Period
This was the golden period of Yaozhou celadon wares with the best and iconic Yaozhou wares being produced. The products have the the finest paste and glaze. The potters also perfected its unique style of carved decoration which was unrivalled till present day. The lines were strong, deeply cut, firm and beveled along the outline of the motifs. Under the green glaze, the motifs stands out clearly. The dark outline where the glaze pooled contrasts well with the lightly glazed surface of the motifs.
Vase with carved floral motif in Shanghai Museum
Vessel with carved motif in Shanghai Museum
Subsequently, impressed relief types were introduced and widely used from the late Northern Song period. Although the best impressed motif probably came from the Ding kiln, Yaozhou also produced its fair share of vessels with fine impressed decoration. The motif is clear with sharp outline and sometime needs close examination to distinguish it from the carved version. A type of funnel shape bowls was also introduced during the late Northern Song period. It is usually decorated on the interior with impressed decoration such as: floral, birds/fish in waves and infants among foliage. Other less common motifs include flying fairies, dragon, phoenix, makara (a form of mythical creature with dragon head and fish body) and etc.
There are also some known examples of Yaozhou impressed motif and reign marks of the Northern Song period such as Xining mark (熙宁) 1068-1077 A.D and Daguang (大观) and Zhenghe mark (正和) 1107 -1117 A.D.
The body of a typical Yaozhou vessel is fine grained and grayish white, contracting tightly in firing. The wall of the bowls are generally thin as compared with the later Jin period pieces. The yaozhou glaze is a lime-alkali type. The ware was fired at around 1300 degree centigrade. By deliberate slow cooling, the glaze does not develop excessive glassiness but instead has a more silky look.
The foot of the bowl also evolved over the duration of Northern Song and Jin period. During the early part of Northern Song period, instead of the large and more shallow footring of 5 Dynasties, the footring of the bowl became smaller and taller. The footring is well-made, neat and has clear traces of trimming on the lip to remove the glaze. At a later stage, there appear another type with an unglaze ring on the outer base where the ring shape support rested during firing.
By the late Northern Song period, the footring became shorter and the bulging of the outer base became distinct. The footring of the this period tends to be less well trimmed and grits adhesion near the footring and outer base is common.
During the Northern Song period, coal replaced wood as the fuel to fire the kilns. As the result, the glaze color changed to an olive green ranging in tone from dark to light. There is no longer the bluish tinge found on 5 Dynasties wares which were fired using wood. The glaze has a high transparency, glossy and thin. The outer base and area near the outer footring of the bowls is usually scorched to a varying degree of brown color.
During the Jin period, to increase production volume, the size of the kiln is enlarged to accommodate more pieces for each firing. As a result, the control of the firing atmosphere is difficult and affected the quality of the glaze. To accomodate more pieces in each firing, the stacking method was also changed. The bowl has an unglaze ring on inner base to accomodate another bowl during firing. Several bowls are stacked and placed in a saggar during firing.
Generally, the bowl is also more thickly potted and the mouth rim portion is thickened. The motif also become more sketchy, less elaborate and simplified. Many of the pieces dated to later half of Jin period have an unttractive ginger yellowish colour tone.
Jin Vase found in Yaozhou Liulin town Hoard
Jin Bowl with carved cow motif in Beijing palace Museum
Jin Yaozhou censer found in the Liulin Township hoard
The most notable innovation of the Jin Yaozhou potters is a whitish tone glaze called "Yue bai" (月白), literally meaning moon white. It has a light paste. The good ones have a jade like glossy quality.
Jin Yaozhou Yuebai glaze jar in Shanghai Museum
In 1988, group of 36 Jin Yaozhou wares were found in a hoard in Tongchuan Liulin township (铜川市耀州区柳林镇(时为耀县柳林乡). Among them, there were quite a number of Yuebai glaze vessels which are of impressive quality. In 2006, a group of high quality Yaozhou wares were also found in the Shenxi Lantian Lv family cemetry (蓝田县吕氏家族墓). Among them there were also some Yuebai vessels.
During the Yuan period, greenware production continued but on a much reduced scale. The quality of the vessels also deteriorated further. Most of lower outer wall and the foot of the bowls/plates were left unglazed.
By late Yuan period, Yaozhou kilns switched to production of Cizhou type wares with iron-black painted motif.
Export of Yaozhou Greenwares
Although Yaozhou ware is not known to be exported in large quantity, some fragements with carved motif have been found in Kota China excavation in Medan of Sumatra in Indonesia.
Yaozhou fragments from Kota Cina site (Exhibited in NUS Museum)
Yaozhou bowls found in Indonesia
I have also seen two fragments with carved motif said to have been found in Central Vietnam. During the Song Dynasty, this was part of the Champa Kingdom which as a coastal state had participated actively in the China/Southeast Asia maritime trade. According to the Vietnamese dealer who showed me the fragments, he said that he had sold some Yaozhou bowls (although he thought they were Fujian celadon) in the past, one which has a dia. of 38 cm.
Influence of Yaozhou Greenwares
Yaozhou greenware was a famous brand Song ceramics and widely copied and produced in Henan, Guangdong and Guangxi kilns. In Henan, Yaozhou-type greenwares were produced in many kilns and termed Linru greenware by the Chinese. Linru (临 汝) is now renamed as Ruzhou (汝州). Majority of the vessels produced were bowls and dishes with impressed floral/waves/waves with fishes motifs or plain without motif. Only small quantity of wares with carved motifs were produced. The motifs were similar to those produced in Yaozhou but are generally of poorer quality. They tend to have a greener or more murky grayish green tone. Yaozhou version also has a more transparent glaze.
Majority of the kilns producing such wares were in Ruzhou (汝州) , Xinan (新安) and Yiyang (宜阳). Other kilns included Yuzhou Juntai (禹州钧台), Neixiang Dayaodian (内郷大窑店) and (宝丰清凉寺).
The products from Xinan Xiguan kiln (新安西关) were generally of higher quality. Those with carved motif were very good and comparable to wares made in Yaozhou.
Some of the Linru bowls have surname character such as 吴, 童 impressed within the circle of a chrysanthemum at the inner bottom.
In Guangdong, the kilns in Xicun, Yangjiang (阳江) and Huizhou (惠州) also produced a form of Yaozhou style impressed floral motif bowls. As compared to the Yaozhou counterpart, the impressed motif from the three Guangdong kilns are not as sharp and quality of the motif more crude. The foot on the Guangdong version is also different.
In Guangxi, Yongfu kilns (永福窑) have been identified as the most important site which produced Yaozhou type wares. So far, only those with impressed motif have been found. The most distinctive difference of the Yongfu product is the spur marks on the inner base. Another interesting variation is a type with apple green colour glaze.
Yaozhou-type sherds of bowls from Yongfu kiln
Video on some Yaozhou sherds
Written by : NK Koh (6 Mar 2008) , updated: 18 6 2015, updated: 25/2/2017