Fascinating exhibition displaying ancient pottery of imperial court
A fascinating must-not-miss exhibition displaying ancient celadon pottery is now on show at Wulin Pavilion of Zhejiang Museum.
Around 300 pieces of the precious celadon, discovered in ancient graves, relic sites and temples are on display through December 31. All of this antique pottery came from kilns produced across Zhejiang Province and it gives a window into the history of ceramic making.
Celadon is a greyish-green glazed porcelain, which originated in Zhejiang. Throughout the millennia, Yue, Ou, Wuzhou, Deqing, Longquan and Southern Song Imperial kilns sprang up here and enjoyed a huge reputation over China.
The exhibition is categorized into five segments and showcases celadon chronologically. Many of the exhibits were excavated from the tombs of the literati and army generals. Their designs reflected the social aesthetics at the time and revealed a high level of skill and technique.
The first section of exhibition reveals the origin and development from the Shang Dynasty (c.16th century-11th century BC) to the Southern and Northern Dynasties (AD 420-589).
Celadon pottery was originally primitive in style before the Shang Dynasty because there was little craftsmanship at the time. It wasn’t until late Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) that crafted celadon was produced.
By increasing the firing temperature, the glaze finish became smooth and clean. During that period, most celadon designs derived from bronze and lacquer vessels sharing similar shapes and motifs.
In Southern and Northern Dynasties, techniques were largely boosted thanks to domestic cultural exchanges. The region along Cao’e River evolved into the production center of celadon. Meanwhile, more and more kilns spread along Ouhe River and middle Zhejiang Province. Their varied firing technology enriched product varieties and formed a prosperous porcelain industry.
At the time, craftsmen created a new ornament technique that added brown hue to the glaze, endowing simple celadon with a different color. Like an exhibit from Ou Kiln, it is characterized with lotus floral patterns and dotted with brown blotches.
The second section of exhibition mainly introduces the celadon in the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) and the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127).
Ancient China’s power reached a peak in the Tang Dynasty, which in return accelerated the development of the porcelain making industry. The production center gradually transferred to Shanglin Lake area in Ningbo-Shaoxing Plain.
Secrets of celadon
Yue, Wuzhou and Longquan kilns all developed their fixed style in the Northern Song Dynasty. During this time, the noted Mise (secret color) celadon came into being in Yue Kiln, which was considered the best porcelain ever produced in China. Mise celadon has been famous throughout history, though in the modern era people still struggle to produce it.
The exhibition features a couple of exquisite celadon pieces made in the period, which highlights the ancient Zhejiang craftsmen’s wisdom and techniques.
Popular Yue Kiln products were spread across China and eventually found favor with the upper classes. A displayed vessel was discovered from the imperial concubine’s tomb of Liao Dynasty (907-1125) in today’s Inner Mongolia, which proved that celadon was used as burial objects to showcase an owner’s social status.
The country’s economic center switched to Zhejiang, in the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), when Hangzhou was made the capital. Royal and folk kilns both developed rapidly and firing techniques reached its heyday, which is shown in the third part of the exhibition.
In this epoch, Longquan Kiln was substituted for Yue Kiln and it became the largest production center. Meanwhile, the Southern Song Imperial Kiln was established in Hangzhou and dedicated to fire porcelain for royal court.
New celadon types were created as the exhibits showcased. Craftsmen adjusted clay composition and glazing techniques to invent whitish-green and light-green varieties. Their elegant shapes and jade-like texture symbolized the peak of celadon making techniques.
The fourth segment of the exhibition mainly displays Yuan-style (1271-1368) celadon. Longquan Kiln continued booming in this era. Along with social development, celadon was made into daily utensils and the decoration methods and motifs were enriched.
In order to meet large the demand from the overseas market, Longquan Kiln expanded its scale and integrated different firing techniques together, which made it into a giant in China’s porcelain industry.
In the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Longquan Kiln still prospered as it produced celadon for the imperial family. Patterns became more and more ornate and sizes got bigger and bigger. However, the kiln declined in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) as the scale shrank and designs did not retain its original characteristics. That is the last section of the exhibition.
Date: Through December 31, closed on Mondays
Address: Zone E, West Lake Culture Square, 581 Zhongshan Rd N.