The Wares of the Ming Dynasty

By R. L. Hobson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XVII
MARKS, INSCRIPTIONS AND CHINESE CHARACTERS

MARKS, INSCRIPTIONS, ETC.

Inscriptions of various kinds are frequently seen on Chinese pottery and porcelain. Those which occur in the field of decoration are usually of a poetical nature, having reference to the ornament on the vessel, but not to the date or place of its manufacture. The marks, on the other hand, which often throw light on the history of the ware, are found, as a rule, under the base. They are stamped, incised or painted; and on the Ming porcelains they are in most cases painted in underglaze blue, rarely in overglaze colours such as red. The ordinary script (k'ai shu) is the usual medium employed, and the seal characters (chuan shu) are rarely seen in Ming marks, though the mark itself is often surrounded by a square or rectangular frame, as though it were the impression of a seal. Chinese inscriptions, if horizontally written, are read from right to left; if in vertical columns, from top to bottom, the sequence of the columns being from right to left.

Marks may be grouped conveniently under the following headings:-- (1) Date marks, (2) Hall marks, (3) Potters' names and factory marks, (4) Marks of commendation, dedication, etc.

(1) Date Marks.--The usual method of indicating the period of manufacture is to give the name of the reigning Emperor. The reign mark complete consists of six characters, e.g. ta ming hsüam tê nien chih= made (chih) in the Hsüan Tê period (nien) of the Great Ming (dynasty). Abbreviated forms of mark are hsüan tê nien chih, omitting the "Great Ming," and the vague ta ming nien chih,1 in which the reign name is omitted. A further slight variation substitutes the character tsao for chih; but, as both mean "made," the sense is not affected. The reign mark was often framed in a double ring; and as the rings were made by one workman and the writing done by another, it sometimes happened

____________________
1
It has been plausibly argued that this mark was used in the first reign of the dynasty, viz. that of Hung Wu; but this inference can only be accepted with the greatest reserve. Incidentally the mark occurs on Japanese porcelain.

-185-

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