Book: Ceramics - Art or Science? Author: Dr. Stan Jones

8. Ceramic Development in China

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 Kraak porcelain has distinctive layouts and decoration, for example plates would have eight areas arranged round the border with a central motif, such as deer, figures in a landscape or flowers in a wicker basket. Kraak porcelain was made in Jingdezhen from early in the Wanli period to the mid-17th century. Later Kraak porcelain was poorer in quality due to less Imperial Quality Assurance because of war and rebellions.

Ming Wanli kraak porcelain dish - courtesy R&G McPherson Antiques

Ming Wanli kraak porcelain dish - courtesy
R&G McPherson Antiques

Chinese culture was passed to other cultures via several media, but porcelain, religion (Buddhism) and paintings were most significant. Japan had been importing ceramics from China since the 8th century, and underglaze blue and white wares since the middle of the Ming Dynasty in the 16th century, at which time potters at Jingdezhen produced wares especially for the Japanese market called Kinrande. This is the Japanese name for porcelain with the outside covered with finely drawn gold decoration on a coloured ground.

Ming Jiajing porcelain bowl, five cranes, for Japanese market - courtesy R&G McPherson Antiques

Ming Jiajing porcelain bowl, five cranes,
for Japanese market - courtesy R&G
McPherson Antiques

Ming Jiajing Kinrande porcelain dish - courtesy R&G McPherson Antiques

Ming Jiajing Kinrande porcelain dish -
courtesy R&G McPherson Antiques

However, it was from the mid 17thcentury that Japanese shapes could be custom ordered and several other wares became available for the Japanese market. These included Ko-sometsuke (old blue and white), Ko’akae (polychrome and underglaze blue and white) and Shonzui (a fine quality blue and white porcelain having unusual shapes). These wares had a prominent role in the Japanese tea ceremony that started to become popular during the Momoyama period (1568-1615).

Ming Tianqi Ko-sometsuke dish in shape of carp - courtesy R&G McPherson Antiques

Ming Tianqi Ko-sometsuke dish in shape of
carp - courtesy R&G McPherson Antiques

This sizeable trade helped to make up for the lack of Imperial orders when funds had to be diverted to fight the Manchu. The designs required were not compatible with Chinese taste so were never adopted by them for their own use. The Japanese sent woodblock prints, sketches and templates for copying. Plates and bowls were provided in sets of five, to suit Japanese custom. Decoration included poems, landscapes, hen and chicks and patterns from contemporary Japanese textiles. The body was similar to Kraak, and still had the “moth-eaten” rim. The ware was easy to imitate, which the Japanese more than willing to do.

8.34 Transitional Period (1620-1683)

The years from the end of the Wanli period to 1683 are referred to as the “Transition Period”. During the first half of this Period, as described above, Japanese and also Dutch commissions partly offset the loss of orders from the Emperor. After 1655 production practically ceased in Jingdezhen due to the instability caused by the change of Dynasty. There were few purchasers and poor quality raw materials, and no Imperial supervision. Japan filled the gap by imitating Kraak porcelain for the United Dutch East India Co. From 1657 there were no more European shapes and motifs made in China until the installation of a new Chief Supervisor of the Imperial Factory in Jingdezhen in 1683, in the reign of the Qing Kangxi Emperor (1662-1722).

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