Ceramics in the Early 15th Century China: Reign of Yongle Emperor (1403-24)
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Ceramics in the Early 15th Century China: Reign of Yongle Emperor (1403-24)

Facts about the Early 15th century white and blue ceramics of the Yongle dynasty.

The 4th son of Hongwu, the Yongle emperor was the impetus for among the most glorious periods in China's cultural history. He asserted extensive sea-trade with lands as remote as East Africa and the Near East and at the same time raised domestic prosperity. His enthusiastic support of the arts included the commissioning of immense encyclopedic projects. One of his more longsighted political achievements were putting back the capital in Beijing and the beginning there of the building of the Forbidden City.

The Yongle court energetically supported Jingdezhen ceramic manufacture and although monochrome porcelains were still favored (the imperial white ware of his rule is celebrated for its honed 'sweet, sugar-like' look), blue-and-white ware was earning its initial inroad into imperial espousal. Due to the paucity of imperial-marked qinghua examples, and the short number (less than a twelve) dug up from Yongle-dated sites, Yongle blue-and-white unmarked specimens elude easy identification utilizing archaeological data alone. Hence, most of these objects should be approached from a stylistic point of view. Such analysis should take the 1st quarter of the century's blue-and-white ware as a pre-Classic age in the development of the medium, lodged between the recognized fourteenth-century representatives and the subsequent appointed wares carrying veritable Xuande marks (1426-35). This analysis heads to the conclusion that the Jingde potters had certainly mastered the method of potting exquisite huge pieces and were already trying out refinements in the application of cobalt with laudable success.

Blue-and-white specialists, up till the past 30 years, decided to put Yongle and Xuande porcelains together as 'early fifteenth century'. This looked to be a most convenient grouping since the wares of both reigns use ornamental idioms so stylistically alike that the wares are practically identical; they were indeed likely imitated from the same huaben (pattern books). Those objects carrying a Xuande reign mark were more considerably assigned to the Xuande period (leaving out, of course, those that were much later copies). The unmarked pieces stuck the problem; the raw assumption was a few were Yongle and a few were Xuande wares. But now, the evidence maintains that the unmarked pieces of this group were all, in truth, made before than those with marks. They display a strong dependency on the making over of inherited Yuan ornamental traditions and spectral analysis discloses that like those by the previous Yuan period, they are empty of manganese in the cobalt pigment used for decoration, while the Xuande marked specimens universally contain some manganese. This manganese-bearing cobalt, an indigen Chinese mineral, when mixed with the imported cobalt (without manganese) enabled a more outstanding control of the pigment, since the manganese in the blended mixture had a tendency to bind and keep the pure cobalt from fragmenting and running while firing, thus bringing out more aesthetic results. Not only is a more orderly colour accomplished but the drawing can be more accurately held during firing. In comparison with a Yongle unmarked piece and a Xuande marked one, we gather that the blue of a Yongle piece is invariably unstable, and the ornament tends towards fuzziness, obviously resulting from the lifting of pure cobalt particles through surface oxidation when the firing, whereas the Xuande blue is almost always vibrantly consistent and the controlled craftsmanship is kept after firing.


China's China by Ellen Huang, University of California

Chinese porcelain by Bertram S. Boggis, 1958

Arts of Asia, Volume 31, 2001

Chinese Pottery and Porcelain, by Zhiyan Li and Wen Cheng

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Comments (2)

very informative.thanks for sharing

Thank you for this great educational article. Promoted