The Wares of the Ming Dynasty

By R. L. Hobson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
MING TECHNIQUE

It will help us towards a correct perspective of the Ming technique if we look back for a moment to the traditions which lay behind the Ming potters; and this help is needed all the more because our knowledge of Ming wares was so long based almost entirely on the heavier and coarser types made for the export trade. This limited knowledge led us to read with scarcely disguised scepticism the descriptions of his choice Ming porcelains written by Hsiang Yüan-p'ien in the sixteenth century,1 and also to doubt the repeated assurance of Chinese connoisseurs that such an exquisitely delicate object as the Yung Lo eggshell bowl in the Franks Collection could possibly have been made at the very beginning of the Ming period.

Here, however, our better acquaintance with the earlier phases of Chinese ceramic art will stand us in good stead. We have learnt in recent years that the potters of the Han dynasty ( 206 B.C.-A.D. 220) were already masters of the ordinary potters' routine, throwing rounded objects on the wheel, forming others in moulds, the use of green and brown glazes, colouring by means of slips or liquid clays, decoration by incising, by sticking on moulded ornaments and by pressing the object itself in a mould; and we have learnt too that the Han potters were already feeling their way to a kind of porcelain.

In the T'ang dynasty ( A.D. 618-906) the art of pottery was mature. Soft faience, stoneware and porcelain were made with equal facility whereever the requisite materials were forthcoming. The soft pottery glazes included green, yellow, manganese purple and blue, which were used either as monochromes or to fill in designs outlined with a point; high- fired glazes, too, were beginning to be used, including a celadon green, a brown-black, a chocolate-brown and some flambé effects which were probably accidental; and painting with a brush in pigments and coloured clays was an accomplished fact. The finds on the ninth-century site of Samarra on the Tigris prove conclusively that fine white porcelain was

____________________
1
Porcelain of Different Dynasties, sixteenth-century coloured illustrations with Chinese MS. text by Hsiang Yüan-p'ien, translated and annotated by S. W. Bushell, Oxford, 1908.

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