Chinese Pottery and Porcelain By Hobson Vols I & II
PORCELAIN CHINESE and POTTERY
AN ACCOUNT OF THE POTTER’S ART IN CHINA FROM PRIMITIVE TIMES TO THE PRESENT DAY
- L. HOBSON, B.A.
- Robert Lockhart Hobson (1873-1941)
Assistant in the Department of British and Medexvel Antiquities and
Ethnography, British Museum. Author of the “Catalogue of the
Collection of English Pottery in the Department of British
and Mediaeval Antiquities of the British Museum ”
Porcelain : Oriental, Continental, and British”;
“Worcester Porcelain”; etc.; and Joint Author
of “Marks on Pottery “
Forty Plates in Colour and Ninety-six in Black and White
FUNK AND WAGNALLS COMPANY
CASSELL AND COMPANY, LIMITED
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PORCELAIN CHINESE and POTTERY Vol I
PORCELAIN CHINESE and POTTERY Vol II
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CHAPTER I CHINESE POTTERY AND PORCELAIN
THE PRIMITIVE PERIODS, An Introduction
POTTERY, as one of the first necessities of mankind, is among the earliest of human inventions. In a rude form it is found with the implements of the late Stone Age, before there is any evidence of the use of metals, and all attempts to reconstruct the first stages of its discovery are based on conjecture alone.
We have no knowledge of a Stone Age in China, but it may be safely assumed that pottery there, as elsewhere, goes back far into prehistoric times. Its invention is ascribed to the mythical Shen-hung, the Triptolemus of China, who is supposed to have initiated the people in the cultivation of the soil and other necessary arts of life. Huang Ti, the semi-legendary yellow emperor, in whose reign the cyclical system of chronology began (2697 B.c.), is said to have appointed ” a superintendent of pottery, K.’ un-wu, who made pottery,” and it was a commonplace in the oldest Chinese literature 1 that the great and good emperor –YU Ti Shun (2317—, 2208 B.c.) ” highly esteemed pottery.” Indeed, the Han historian Ssii-ma Chien (163-85 B.c.) assures us that Shun himself, before ascending the throne, ” fashioned pottery at Ho-pin,” and, needless to say, the vessels made at Ho-pin were ” without flaw.”OTTERY, as one of the first necessities of mankind, is among the earliest of human inventions. In a rude form it is found with the implements of the late Stone Age, before there is any evidence of the use of metals, and all attempts to reconstruct the first stages of its discovery are based on conjecture alone.
According to the description given in the 7.1`ao shuo, the evolution of the potter’s art in China took the usual course. The first articles made were cooking vessels ; then, ” coming to the time of Yu (i.e. VU Ti Shun), the different kinds of wine vessels are distinguished by name, and the sacrificial vessels are gradually becoming complete.” 2
I should add that the author of the Tao shoo, after accepting the earlier references to the art, inconsistently concludes : ” I humbly
suggest that the origin of pottery should strictly be placed in the reign of Yii Ti Shun, and its completion in the Chou dynasty ” (1122-256 B.c.).
Unfortunately, none of the writers can throw any light on the first use of the potter’s wheel in China. It is true that, like several other nations, the Chinese claim for themselves the invention of that essential implement, but there is no real evidence to illuminate the question, and even if the wheel was independently discovered in China, the priority of invention undoubtedly rests with the Near Eastern nations. Palpable evidence of its use can be seen on Minoan pottery found in Crete and dating about 3000 B.C., and on Egyptian pottery of the twelfth dynasty (about 2200 B.c.) ; while it is practically certain that it was used in the making of the Egyptian pottery of the fourth dynasty (about 3200 B.c.).
So far, the Chinese have nothing tangible to oppose to these facts earlier than the Chou writings, in which workers with the wheel (ea° jen) are distinguished from workers with moulds (fang jen), the former making cauldrons, basins, colanders, boilers, and vessels (yil), and the latter moulding the sacrificial vessels named kuei and tou. We learn that at this time the Chinese potters also used the compasses and the polishing wheel or lathe. With this outfit they were able, according to the Tao shuo, to effect the ” completion ” of pottery.
Whatever the truth of this pious statement may be, reflecting. as it does the true Chinese veneration of antiquity, it is certain, at any rate, that the potter was not without honour at this time : for we read in the Tso Chuang that ” 0-fu of Yii was the best potter at the beginning of the Chou dynasty. Wu Wang relied on his skill for the vessels which he used. He wedded him to a descendant of his imperial ancestors, and appointed him feudal prince of Ch` en.”
Examples of these early potteries have been unearthed from ancient burials from time to time, and the Tao shoo describes. numerous types from literary sources. But neither the originals, as far as we know them, nor the verbal descriptions of them, have anything but an antiquarian interest.
The art of the Chou dynasty, as expressed in bronze and jade, is fairly well known from illustrated Chinese and Western works. It reflects a priestly culture in its hieratic forms and symbolical
ornament. It is majestic and stern, severely disdainful of senti- ment and sensuous appeal. Of the pottery we know little, but that little shows us a purely utilitarian ware of simple form, unglazed and almost devoid of ornament.
On Plate 1 are two types which may perhaps be regarded as favourable examples of Chou pottery. A tripod vessel, almost exactly similar to Fig. 1, was published by Berthold Laufer,’ who shows by analogy with bronzes of the period good reasons for its Chou attribution, which he states is confirmed by Chinese antiquarians. His example was of hard ” gray clay, which on the surface has assumed a black colour,” and it had the surface ornamented with a hatched pattern similar to that of our illustration. It has been assumed that this hatched pattern is a sure sign of Chou origin, and I have no doubt that it was a common decoration at the time. But its use continued after the Chou period, and it is found on pottery from a Han tomb in Szechuan, which is now in the British Museum. It is, in fact, practically the same as the ” mat marking ” on the Japanese and Corean pottery taken from the dolmens which were built over a long period extending from the second century B.C. to the eighth century A.D.
The taste of the time is reflected in a sentence which occurs in the Kuan-tzfi, a work of the fifth century B.C.: ” Ornamentation detracts from the merit of pottery.” 2 The words used for ornamentation are wen, ts’ai ‘5CV (lit. pattern, bright colours), and they seem to imply a knowledge of some means of colouring the ware. As there is no evidence of the use of glaze before the Han period, and enamelling in the ordinary ceramic sense is out of the question, we may perhaps assume that some of the pottery of the Chou period was painted with unfired pigments, a method certainly in use in the Han dynasty. There is a vase in the British Museum of unglazed ware with painted designs in black, red and white pigments, which has been regarded as of Han period, but may possibly be earlier (Plate 2, Fig. 3).
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Vol II Pottery and Porcelain By Hobson
THE MING on DYNASTY, 1368-1644 A.D.
AS we have already discussed, so far as our imperfect know-ledge permits, the various potteries which are scattered over the length and breadth of China, we can now concentrate our attention on the rising importance of Ching-te Chen. From the beginning of the Ming dynasty, Ching-to Chen may be said to have become the ceramic metropolis of the empire, all the other potteries sinking to provincial status. So far as Western collections, at any rate, are concerned, it is not too much to say that 90 per cent. of the post-Yiian porcelains were made in this great pottery town.
What happened there in the stormy years which saw the overthrow of the Mongol dynasty and the rise of the native Ming is unknown to us, and, indeed, it is scarcely likely to have been of much interest. The Imperial factories were closed, and did not open till 1369, or, according to some accounts, 1398.1 If we follow the Ching-te Chen rao lu, which, as its name implies, should be well informed on the history of the place, a factory was built in 1369 at the foot of the Jewel Hill to supply Imperial porcelain (kuan tz`ii,), and in the reign of Hung Wu (1368-1398) there were at least twenty kilns in various parts of the town working in the Imperial service. They included kilns for the large dragon bowls, kilns for blue (or green) ware (ch’ing yao), ” wind and fire “2 kilns, seggar kilns for making the cases for the fine porcelain, and lan kuang kilns, which Julien renders fours a Hammes etendues. The last expression implies that the heat was raised in these kilns by means of a kind of bellows (kuang) which admitted air to the furnace, and Bushell’s rendering, ” blue and yellow enamel furnaces,” ignores an essential part of both the characters1 used I in the original.
From this time onward there is no lack of information on the ; nature of the Imperial wares made during the various reigns, but I it must be remembered that the Chinese descriptions are in almost every case confined to the Imperial porcelains, and we are left to assume that the productions of the numerous private kilns followed the same lines, though in the earlier periods, at any rate, we are told that they were inferior in quality and finish.
The Hung Wu tjuz palace porcelain, as described in the Veto lu, was of fine, unctuous clay and potted thin. The ware was left for a whole year to dry, then put upon the lathe and turned thin, i and then glazed and fired. If there was any fault in the glaze, the piece was ground down on the lathe, reglazed and refired. ” Consequently the glaze was lustrous (Ping) like massed lard.” These phrases are now so trite that one is tempted to regard them as mere Chinese conventionalities, but there is no doubt that the material used in the Ming period (which, as we shall see presently, gave out in the later reigns) was of peculiar excellence. The raw edge of the base rim of early specimens does, in fact, reveal a beautiful white body of exceedingly fine grain and smooth texture, so fat and unctuous that one might almost expect to squeeze moisture out of it.
The best ware, we are told, was white, but other kinds are mentioned. A short contemporary notice in the Ko hu yao lun,2 written in 1387, says, ” Of modern wares (made at Ching-te Chen) the good, examples with white colour and lustrous are very highly valued. There are, besides, ch`ing 3 (blue or green) and black (hei) wares with gilding, including wine pots and wine cups of .great charm.”. Such pieces may exist in Western collections, but they remain unidentified, and though there are several specimens with the Hung Wu mark to be seen in museums, few have the appearance of Ming porcelain at all. There is, however, a dish in the British Museum which certainly belongs to the Mind dynasty, even if it
is a century later than the mark implies. The body is refined and white, though the finish is rather rough, with pits and raised spots here and there in the glaze and grit adhering to the foot rim; but it is painted with a free touch in a bright blue, recalling the Mohammedan blue in colour, the central subject a landscape, and the sides and rim divided into panels of floral and formal ornament. It must be allowed that the style of the painting is advanced for this early period, including as it does white designs reserved in blue ground as well as the ordinary blue painting on a white ground.
Yung Lo ficti (1403-1424)
The usual formula; are employed by the T’ao lu in describing the Imperial ware of this reign. It was made of plastic clay and refined material, and though, as a rule, the porcelain was thick, there were some exceedingly thin varieties known as t`o rail or ” bodiless ” porcelains. Besides the plain white specimens, there were others engraved with a point 2 or coated with vivid red (hsien hung). The Po wu yao lan,3 reputed a high authority on Ming porcelains and written in the third decade of the seventeenth century, adds ” blue and white ” to the list and gives further details of the wares. The passage is worth quoting in full, and runs as follows : ” In the reign of Yung Lo were made the cups which fit in the palm of the hand,4 with broad mouth, contracted waist, sandy (sha) foot, and polished base. Inside were drawn two lions rolling balls. Inside, too, in seal characters, was written Ta Ming Yung Lo nien chih5 in six characters, or sometimes in fours only, as fine as grains of rice. These are the highest class. Those with mandarin ducks, or floral decoration inside, are all second quality. The cups are decorated outside with blue ornaments of a very deep colour, and their shape and snake are very refined and beautiful and in a traditional style. Their price, too, is very high.
As for the modern imitations, they are coarse in style and make, with foot and base burnt (brown), and though their form has some resemblance (to the old), they are not worthy of admiration.”
As may be imagined, Yung Lo porcelain is not common to-day, and the few specimens which exist in our collections are not enough to make us realise the full import of these descriptions. There are, however, several types which bear closely on the subject, some being actually of the period and others in the Yung Lo style. A fair sample of the ordinary body and glaze of the time is seen in the white porcelain bricks of which the lower story of the famous Nanking pagoda was built. Several of these are in the British Museum, and they show a white compact body of close but granular fracture ; the glazed face is a pure, solid-looking white, and the unglazed sides show a smooth, fine-grained ware which has assumed a pinkish red tinge in the firing. The coarser porcelains of the period would, no doubt, have similar characteristics in body and glaze. The finer wares are exemplified by the white bowls, of wonderful thinness and transparency, with decoration engraved in the body or traced in delicate white slip under the glaze and scarcely visible except as a transparency. Considering the fragility of these delicate wares and the distant date of the Yung Lo period, it is surprising how many are to be seen in Western collections. Indeed, it is hard to believe that more than a very few of these can be genuine Yung Lo productions, and as we know that the fine white ” egg shell ” porcelain was made throughout the Ming period and copied with great skill in the earlier reigns of the last dynasty, it is not necessary to assume that every bowl of the Yung Lo type dates back to the first decades of the fifteenth century.
It is wellnigh impossible to reproduce adequately these white porcelains, but Plate 59 illustrates the well-known example in the Franks Collection, which has long been accepted as a genuine Yung Lo specimen. It represents the ya shou pei in form, with wide mouth and small foot—the contracted waist of the Po wu yao lan ; the foot rim is bare at the edge, but not otherwise sandy, and the base is glazed over, which may be the sense in which the word ” polished ” 1 is used in the Po wu yao lan. The ware is so thin and transparent that it seems to consist of glaze alone, as
though the body had been pared away to vanishing point before the glaze was applied—in short, it is ro rai or ” bodiless.” When held to the light it has a greenish transparency and the colour of melting snow, and there is revealed on the sides a delicate but exquisitely drawn design of five-clawed Imperial dragons in white slip (not etched, as has too often been stated), showing up like the water-mark in paper. On the bottom inside is the date-mark of the period etched with a point in four archaic characters (see vol. i, p. 213). A more refined and delicate ceramic work could hardly be imagined.
Close to this bowl in the Franks Collection there are two smaller bowls or, rather, cups which in many ways answer more nearly the description of the ya show pei,1 though they are thick in substance and of coarser make. They have straight spreading sides, wide at the mouth, with foliate rim, and contracted at the foot. The foot rim is bare of glaze, but the base is covered. They are of an impure white ware with surface rather pitted, and inside is a lotus design traced in white slip under the glaze and repeated in radiating compartments. These are perhaps a product of the private factories. The same form is observed among the blue and white porcelain in two small cups, which are painted in blue with a landscape on the exterior and with bands of curled scrolls inside and the Yung Lo mark in four characters. The base is unglazed, and though they are undoubtedly intended to represent a Yung Lo type, these not uncommon bowls can hardly be older than the last dynasty. Another blue and white bowl in the Franks Collection has the Yung Lo mark and the scroll decoration inside, and on the exterior a long poem by Su Shih, covering most of the surface. It is painted in a grey blue, and the ware, though coarse, has the appearance of Ming manufacture, perhaps one of the late Ming copies which are mentioned without honour in the Po wu yao laza. It is, however, of the ordinary rounded form.2
Hsiang Yiian-Oen illustrates in his Album one Yung Lo specimen, a low cylindrical bowl of the ” bodiless ” kind, ” thin as paper,” with a very delicate dragon and phoenix design, which
is seen when the bowl Is held to the light and carefully inspected. This style of ornament is described as an hua (secret decoration), but it is not stated whether, in this case, it was engraved in the paste or traced in white slip.
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1 See vol. i, p. 153.