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Collecting Chinese Pottery

Chinese Ming Jar

Most Types of early Chinese pottery are available to the collector. Condition and quality are more important than sheer age. The most collectable pieces tend to be figures.
Until the end of the Song dynasty in 1280, generally Chinese ceramics were either stoneware or earthenware. The Han Dynasty (206 BC -220 AD) is known for it's red earthenware's. As with many ancient civilisations, pottery objects were placed in tombs for the dead to take to the afterlife.

The Tang dynasty (618-906) became the golden age of lead glazed earthenware, tinted green, blue or amber by adding copper, cobalt or iron pigments. Tang tomb figures have often been faked. In fact it quite easy to buy copies of the Tang horse in stores today, purely for decorative purposes.
Ancient Chinese Tang Horse

During the Song dynasty fine stoneware was produced including the famous Ding wares of North China, noted for their rich ivory glaze with the moulded and incised decoration. Also from the North came Jun stoneware's, which had thick blue glazes. The Celadon stoneware's produced with greyish or olive green glazes were first made in the Song dynasty. Pieces of this period are extremely rare.

Some Porcelain was produced in the Yuan dynasty (1280-1368) decorated in underglaze blue. It was sometime, however, before the highly fashionable Celadon wares were overtaken by the these crisply decorated porcelains, which were initially seen as rather vulgar.

In 1368 the Mongol Yuan dynasty was overcome and the Ming dynasty was established. This lasted until 1644. During the early years of the first Ming Emperors reign, porcelain in undergalze blue or red was developed further. At the end of the 14th Century porcelain had reached fashionable status.
It would wrong to say that all porcelain from the Ming dynasty is worth huge amounts of money. The output was enormous, many pieces were for export to the West and the survival rate has been high. Many of the wares that we have today were from the provinces rather than from the Imperial kilns and some were rather crudely potted and decorated. These pieces especially if damaged can be purchased for relatively modest amounts.

In the reign of Xuande (1426-35) superior wares were made in blue and white using a blackish blue glaze, also red was used. These superb wares were later copied in the 18th century; rather convincingly it has to be said. Later Ming period includes the coloured enamels of the Chenghua reign (1465-87). Blue and white was revived in the reign of Jiajing (1522-66), when overglaze red was added to the colours.

Some 80% of reign marks on Chinese porcelain are retrospective, Intended as a tribute to Imperial ancestors. Square seal marks sometimes replace the more usual character marks. Reading from the top down, a six-character mark includes: character for "great", dynasty, emperors first name, emperors second name, two characters meaning "in the reign of". Pieces that bear the correct period mark ( catalogued "mark and period") are obviously more valuable than those with retrospective marks.

With the death of Emperor Wanli in 1620, the Ming dynasty began to fall apart. During this difficult Transitional period very little was produced in the imperial kilns. However, good quality attractive porcelain was made in the provinces in private kilns, many of which employed potters that had moved from their Imperial employ. Freed from their constraints they started to produce new designs based on Chinese folklore. These pieces rarely bear reign marks.
During the Qing dynasty ( Kangxi period) 1662-1722 a fine underglaze blue was used, the purplish blue of the Transitional period gave way to a clear sapphire blue. Great advances were made in technique. An example being, where a powder blue blown on to the body produced a speckled background. Particular care was taken in the potting in getting a perfectly smooth surface prior to decoration.

After 1710 "famille verte" enamelled wares, known for their brilliant green were produced in large quantities.
period (1736-95) became famous for new glazes, like flambé With it's turquoise splashes and for the first famille rose wares.

Chinese Dynasties and Reign Periods.
CLICK HERE for Japanese Reign Periods.

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