ceramic shards in China were found in the remains of cave dwellings
dating to 9,000-10,000 years ago. Large quantities of pottery
- mainly utensils for daily use - were unearthed in Neolithic
of the invention of pottery on prehistoric man was enormous. Household
goods were essential to sedentary life, consolidating settlement
and helping to store agricultural produce. The diverse types of
pottery from different periods and regions have been classified
by scholars into four categories: red, gray, black, and white.
In 4000-2000 BCE, the firing temperature for pottery wares of
the Yangshao culture was so high that the clay burned red after
firing. The Majia Kiln culture was mainly distributed in Gansu
and the northeast of Qinghai. Ceramic manufacture was similar
to that of the Yangshao culture, but had strong local characteristics.
Painted pottery was developed, using black to paint the designs
and floral decorations.
The custom of burying pottery in tombs was introduced in the Han
Dynasty. Funerary models were large in variety and quantity, ranging
from storehouses, stoves, wells, pigsties, and pavilions, to fields,
ponds, livestock, and other features of the economic and social
life of the time.
Pottery figurines used as funerary objects in
ancient tombs were popular in the Qin and Han dynasties, and up
to the Sui and Tang, gradually decreasing after the Northern Song.
In the Shang and Western Zhou period human sacrifice was practiced.
Later, figurines of men and women were entombed, gradually replacing
the custom of burying people alive.
Army of the First Emperor
of life-size pottery figures and horses were fired for burial
in the royal tomb during the Qin dynasty, symbolizing the grandeur
of the emperor. The discovery of the Qin terra-cotta warriors
and horses in 1974 shook the world. Over 300 ceramic infantry,
cavalry, chariots, and soldiers were excavated in the Han tomb
at Yangjiawan, Zianyang, Shaanxi Province. Composition of pottery
figurines remained as it was in the Sui and Tang dynasties, including
figurines of heavenly kings, civil officials, guards of honor,
servants, and dancers. The various groups of ceramic figurines
covered with a glaze called ''three colors of the Tang" or
Tang sancai are especially radiant and grandly decorated. ''Three
colors'' actually refers to a wider range of colors. It denotes
earthenware covered with a lead-based glaze and fired at a low
temperature, using iron, copper, and manganese as coloring agents.
is an invention of ancient China. Using porcelain rock or porcelain
clay as the basic material, it is fired at a high temperature
of 1,200 degrees C. Porcelain has a dense non-porous body and
a brilliant glaze. Abundant in variety, it plays an important
role in daily life. Already during the Shang and Zhou periods,
firing of primitive porcelain had emerged, while in the mid and
late Eastern Han period, true porcelain was developed. Porcelain
kilns are distributed in Zhejiang Province and other areas south
of the Yangzi River. The porcelain industry developed rapidly
in the Wei period, the Jin dynasty, and the Northern and Southern
dynasties, reaching high levels of craftsmanship. Celadon - stoneware
with a greenish glaze -was the most popular type of porcelain
ware, to which brown stippling and painted decoration were added.
The Tang dynasty porcelain industry produced two main ceramic
wares: ''blue of the south" and "white of the north,''
which is to say that the south produced mainly celadon and the
north produced mainly white-glazed porcelain. Porcelain flourished
during the Song and Yuan dynasties. Official kilns developed and
folk kilns began to emerge, forming different schools, such as
Ru, Guan, Ge, Ding, and Jun, honored as the five great kilns of
the Song dynasty. The Ding Kiln was famous for producing white
porcelain. The Jun Kiln fired red and blue glaze to achieve a
purple-red blend. The Cizhou Kiln is most renowned among the folk
kilns. It produced porcelain that used white as the base with
designs painted in black to create lively motifs in contrasting
colors. Blue-and-white ware is obtained by decorating the white
porcelain body with designs in cobalt blue, covering it with a
transparent glaze, and firing it at a temperature of 1,300 C.
Blue-and-white ware and other high-fired porcelains matured in
the Yuan dynasty, laying the foundations for the Ming dynasty
city of Jingdezhen in Jiangxi Province to become China's porcelain
Porcelain technique advanced markedly during the Ming dynasty,
when a great number of new colors and shapes emerged. Potters
mastered the art of mixing metallic elements and firing them at
low or high temperatures to produce precisely the colors they
desired. As a result, a rich variety of fine porcelain works were
amassed. This exhibition traces the evolution of Chinese porcelain
art through the centuries, from its earliest stages and up to
its peak of delicacy and refinement.
Director, Art Exhibitions China