The Rarest of all Chinese Porcelains
Chinese Northern Song Ru Ware
RU WARE IS the most celebrated of Northern Song (960-1127) ceramics. These utensils were made exclusively for the court and were ranked among the Ding, Jun, Guan and Ge as the ‘five classic wares’ of the Song dynasty (960-1279). They began to be collected as early as the Southern Song (1127-1279) and as the rarest of all surviving classical wares, were transmitted from generation to generation. No copies were reproduced until the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), when the Yongzheng emperor (r.1723-1735) allowed prototypes from the imperial collection to be made at Jingdezhen. Today, only around seventy pieces of Chinese Northern Song Ru Wareare extant and might be found at The Palace Museum, Beijing, the National Palace Museum, Taipei and the British Museum, London.
However, the ‘official’ kilns producing Ru wares have eluded the most dedicated of scholars until only recently. The search for their origins began already in pre-war China, when excavations focused on cemeteries, where the most concentration of preserved remains – more than dwelling sites or settlements – were gathered. A major method for finding and dating kiln sites at the time was shard identification, which is still widely used today. The Japanese, who highly esteem Ru ware, were the first to lead the way. In 1931, Harada Gentotsu and the Count Otani Kozui examined shard specimens collected from six kilns in Linru county in the Henan region south of Kaifeng, the Northern Song capital, and established that Linru was the production site for imperial Ru ware. Their assumptions were extremely important and remained a system for classification until after the founding of the People’s Republic of China. In the 1950s, Chinese archaeologists using systematic and scientific excavation methods, discovered a kiln site in Qingliangsi, Baofeng county in Henan, where shards resembling Ru ware were found in 1977. In 1986, a pale celadon sherd discovered lying on a field near Qingliangsi village turned out to be a seminal find when it was confirmed authentic by the Shanghai Museum. The museum sponsored two more surveys to excavate the site and the results were published in 1987 as The Discovery of Ru Ware. Thereafter the Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology conducted extensive investigations at Qingliangsi between 1987 and 2002, leading to one of the major archaeological findings of all time. A complex of workshops was discovered with the remains of production, confirming the actual presence of kilns, as recorded in a full report, Baofeng Qingliangsi Ru Ware of September 2008. The kiln site has been recognised by the State Council and is now classified as one of China’s ‘foremost nationally protected cultural heritage sites’.
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