Celadon is a word that is synonymous to Longquan greenware. Besides blue and white, this is definitely one of the best know type of Chinese porcelain. It could be found in countries
along the ancient maritime silk route which linked Southeast Asia, South/west Asia. middle-east and East Africa. The quantity of Longquan celadon wares exported during the Song and Yuan
period was enormous.
The kilns producing Longquan celadons were located in southern Zhejiang province, covering ten counties with most kiln sites located at Longquan (龙泉), Qingyuan (庆元), Yunhe (云和), and Lisui (丽水). Longquan had the most kiln sites with those located at Dayao and Jincun produced the best quality Longquan wares during the Song, Yuan and Ming period.
History of LongQuan Celadon
Developed in Song Dynasty
Originated from the Jin Dynasty (265-376), Longquan celadon was developed in the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127). Glazed with green or yellow colors, celadon productions of that time were featured by delicate textures, thin bodies and regular shapes. Daily necessities such as bowls, salvers, cups, pots and bottles engraved with flowers, birds and fishes were the main creations of Longquan kiln where celadon flourished in the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279).
The kiln evolved into Ge kiln and Di kiln in Song Dynasty (Ge means elder brother and Di means younger brother in Chinese); especially the Ge kiln together with Guan kiln, Ru kiln, Ding kiln and Jun Kiln were known as five famous kilns in Song Dynasty. Celadons created by Ge kiln are characterized by irregular crackles on their glaze and enameled with plum-green color on their bodies. While celadons made by Di Kiln are coated with a thick glaze on their white ground making the colors as mild as jade, their qualities are slightly inferior to that of the Ge kiln.
Longquan celadon reached its peak in the Song Dynasty; the celadon productions began to spread from daily necessities to calligraphy materials and the figures of auspicious animals
were widely engraved on celadons as decorative patterns. Over time the supply of celadons fell short of demand from domestic and overseas consumers. Lotus-shaped bowls and plates, phoenix
ear-shaped bottles, hornless dragon ear-shaped bottles and incense burners were the treasures of that time.
Flourished in Yuan Dynasty
Owing to the open policy on foreign trade advocated by the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) the scale of celadon production was increasingly expanded; according to records, there had been 350 kilns in Longquan at that time. Besides traditional shapes, lotus leaf-shaped pots, phoenix tail-shaped bottles and goblets emerged as creative varieties. Some official kilns began to produce celadon wares for the royal court but their qualities were not as good as that of Southern Song Dynasty. With thinner coating, their colors were turning into pea green but more shining than before. Appliqué, stipple and enchasing were the main decoration techniques of that period.
The rulers of the Yuan Dynasty loved celadon very much, since they were nomadic tribes that came from the northern grassland, the green-colored celadon reminded them of homeland.
Longquan celadons made in the Yuan Dynasty were blended with the wild style of northern nomadic tribes. With heavy glaze and grand engraving on their bodies, cucurbit-shaped
bottles, pots with lotus leaf-shaped covers and phoenix tail-shape cups were the masterpieces of that period, displaying the power and grandeur of the royalty.
Gradual Decline in Ming and Qing Dynasties
Longquan celadon gradually declined during the Ming and Qing Dynasty. In the early Ming Dynasty Longquan kiln made a large number of celadons for the royal court, most of which inherited the
style of Yuan Dynasty which not only had regular shapes but also engraved on both sides. However, in the mid and late Ming Dynasty, the export of celadons dropped sharply due to the Ming
government’s ban on maritime trade. The number of kilns was reduced to about 160 and the figures and crafts of celadons were not as delicate as before.
Nevertheless longquan celadon still represented the luxury of royalty. Featured by elegant figures, delicate carvings and mellow glazes, they were largely collected by the royal court or presented to foreign emissaries as a gift. Today, they still can be found in the Topkapi Palace in Turkey.
The situation declined further in the Qing Dynasty when there were only 70 kilns left in China and most their productions were coarse.
Longquan Celadon can be classified into two categories traditionally: Geyao and Diyao. The story of Geyao and Diyao came from the record from Ming Dynasty period: “The Zhang Brothers living in Longquan County are good at ceramics-making. The ceramics made by the younger brother is called Diyao while that by the elder brother is called Geyao. There’s no evidence for us to prove the presence of the two brothers. However, it did create two ways of ceramics-making in Longquan kilns. Geyao (elder brother kiln) had a black clay body with a purple rim and iron brown bottom. The sparkling and crystal-clear glaze of Geyao celadon made it look like jade or ice. Ge kiln was one of the Five Famed Kilns of the Song Dynasty along with the Guan, Ru, Ding and Jun kilns. This kind of products becomes outstanding for the shape, glazing color and crackling. The crackling is difficult to control by human and it forms by nature, applying for the aesthetic interest of natural and simple antique flavors.
Diyao (younger brother kiln) features thick, white clay pieces covered in a bluish glaze that gives them a glittering and translucent appearance and moist texture. Fen ching (lavender grey) and meizi ching (plum green) are the best celadon glazing colors and below them is dou ching (bean green). The green glazing color is collocated with orange footing or Lutai patterns, presenting a pleasant look. Works with Lutai patterns appear abundantly in the middle and late Southern Song period, especially in Yuan period. Decorates such as faces, hands, foots of portraits, clouds, dragons, flowers in the bottom of artifacts are quite unique.