Ding wares come from a region of northern China formerly known as Dingzhou (Ding prefecture); the white porcelains made there have been prized since the Song dynasty (960–1279). Archaeologists have found the main Ding kiln complex on the border of present-day Quyang in Hebei province, unearthing a complex cluster of kilns covering a wide area and capable of rich production. The kilns began to flourish during the Tang dynasty (618–907), and soon gained fame throughout northern China. By the late Tang and Five Dynasties periods in the tenth century, Ding porcelains had become highly popular among the Chinese aristocracy in the Yangtze and Yellow River regions and even among the Khitan Liao in present-day Manchuria. The refinement of Ding ware production techniques continued into Song and Jin (1115–1234) times; the ware came to be characterized by the use of coal as kiln fuel, the adoption of the "upside-down" firing technique to improve quality, and the use of incised or moulded decorations on the vessel surfaces. Not only were these wares given as tribute for use in the imperial courts of the Northern Song (960–1127) and Jin dynasties, but they also broke through border barriers, as large numbers of them have been found in Liao and Southern Song (1127–1279) grave burials. These wares have thus earned their reputation as "the best under Heaven".
The Northern Song poet Su Dongpo (1037–1101) sang the praises of Ding decorated porcelains that "rival the beauty of carved red jade", and the Jin-dynasty scholar Liu Qi (1203–1259) wrote about a decorated Ding-ware vessel whose white colour was "the most esteemed under Heaven", testifying to the huge popularity that decorated Ding white porcelains enjoyed at the time. The decorative motifs were either carved into the unglazed white-clay vessel bodies or impressed into the clay using moulds; thus decorated, the clay bodies were then covered with a transparent glaze that collected more thickly within the incised or impressed lines and thus became darker in colour, clearly revealing the decorative designs and greatly increasing the resplendent beauty of the austere, ivory-white vessel surface. Such refined and understated beauty, with its endless variety of patterns, has become the paragon of white porcelain in the eyes of connoisseurs, and both official and private kilns have competed to imitate it since Song times.
There are nearly eight hundred porcelain vessels of the Ding type in the National Palace Museum collection; most bear decorative motifs, whether fluidly incised or moulded in rich patterns, and all display the astonishing variety of designs created by the Song craftsmen. This exhibition is scheduled in two parts, with a partial changeover in May 2014 to allow viewers to experience the rich breadth of the Museum's Ding ware collection.
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