Grand View:Ju Ware from the Northern Sung Dynasty
語言切換: 中文日本語

Sections & Selections

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I. In a Class of Its Own

The art of ceramics flourished in the Sung dynasty, as various kilns across China strived to show off their best in terms of forms, glazes, decorative techniques, and methods of production. The Ju kilns, located at the Ch'ing-liang Temple in Pao-feng County, Honan Province, fired bold and outstanding porcelains with glazes marked by a moist and glossy appearance. Standing out among the numerous celadon types made at the time, they became the porcelains designated by the imperial family for its use.

The unique style of Ju porcelain glaze color is a slightly greenish blue hue with the slightest sparkle of rose pink luster, appearing quite different from the Yao-chou, Southern Sung Kuan (Official), and Lung-ch’üan celadons of the Sung dynasty. Starting in the period of the Ming and Ch'ing dynasty, Ju porcelains received particular attention among connoisseurs. Regardless of the terms they used to describe Ju wares, such as "sky-blue color", "blue sky after rain", or "light blue hue", they all were insufficient to capture the consummate skill and perfection of the color and luster of actual pieces. In addition, the grading of Ju porcelains, whether the surfaces of the glaze had crackle or were completely without any form of pattern, were considered in the view of connoisseurs to be in a class of their own and regarded as the paragon of celadons.

Plate with greenish-blue glaze See larger image
Plate with greenish-blue glaze
Northern Sung Ju Ware
Height: 4.4 cm, Depth: 2.8 cm, Rim diameter: 21.4 cm,
Base diameter: 15.5-15.7 cm

The bottom of this dish is engraved with an imperial poem by the Ch'ing dynasty emperor Ch'ien-lung, who used the line "Porcelain of the Sung is like music of the Chou" to describe the classical perfection of Sung porcelains, praising them as the best of the porcelains.

Plain narcissus planter with greenish-blue glaze See larger image
Plain narcissus planter with greenish-blue glaze
Northern Sung Ju Ware
Height: 6.7 cm, Depth: 3.5 cm, Rim width: 16.4 cm,
Rim length: 23 cm, Bottom width: 12.9 cm,
Bottom length: 19.3 cm

Known as the only narcissus planter without any crackle to its glaze, the form of this piece is perfect and reflects the appreciation of the Ming dynasty connoisseur Ts'ao Chao, who praised "Those with 'crab-claw' (crackle) patterns as divine, but those without as truly superb".

Incense burner See larger image
Incense burner
Northern Sung Ju Ware
Height: 15.3 cm, Rim diameter: 23.8 cm
On loan from the Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art

Similar to a lacquerware vessel shape of the Warring States and a bronze burner type of the Han dynasty, the robust form here has a strongly classical manner. This type of vessel was included in the list of Ju wares submitted by the favored official Chang Chün to the Southern Sung emperor Kao-tsung.

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II. The Spread of Refinement

Ju porcelains were used for approximately twenty years, from 1086 to 1106, during the reigns of Emperors Che-tsung and Hui-tsung. Although only a short time, these works expressed an appeal that took the form of cultural exchange that transcended borders.

The mallet vase, for example, is a shape that derived from glass crafts of Iran and Egypt, entering China around the 11th century. The mallet jar had been popular in Middle East glassware from the 9th to 10th centuries and was used to store wine, oil, and rose water. In China, the Ju ware mallet vase, done in imitation using porcelain, was suited as an object for display and appreciation.

The warming bowl in the shape of a lotus blossom also appeared in lacquer wares, metal wares, and the ceramics of other kilns, representing a form popular at the time. Also being almost identical to Koryo celadons in Korea, it reflects the extent of commercial relations in porcelains that took place between the Northern Sung and Koryo during the 12th century, which was specifically recorded in the book “Illustrated Text of the Hsüan-ho Emissary to Koryo”. Hsü Ching, the author of this book, had been sent to Korea as an emissary of the Northern Sung, and he described the porcelains he saw at the Koryo court, such as "Yüeh-chou ancient secret-color (porcelains)", "Ju-chou new kiln wares" and the types of wares produced at the Ju kilns.

Sculpted incense celadon burner with mandarin duck cover See larger image
Sculpted incense celadon burner with mandarin duck cover
12th century, Koryo Dynasty, Korea
Height: 18.8 cm, Width: 16 cm
On loan from the Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka

The smoke of incense lit within such a burner would waft through the body of the mandarin duck above and then slowly emerge from its beak. This incense burner is not only practical, its form is also extremely well designed, revealing the fine and elegant manner of Koryo celadons.

Incense burner See larger image
Incense burner
Northern Sung Ju Ware (Ch’ing-liang Temple kiln site)
Height: 13.6 cm, Rim diameter: 15 cm,
Bottom diameter: 16 cm
On loan from the Henan Provincial Administration of Cultural Heritage

The book "Illustrated Text of the Hsüan-ho Emissary to Koryo" of the 12th century records a kind of Korean incense burner, in which the bottom is in a form that looks like it is "supported by an inverted lotus blossom". Without any surviving pieces to offer testimony to this record, pieces of Ju wares that have been archaeologically excavated show evidence that a similar form indeed once existed.

Lotus-shaped warming bowl with greenish-blue glaze See larger image
Lotus-shaped warming bowl with greenish-blue glaze
Northern Sung Ju Ware
Height: 10.1-10.5 cm, Depth: 7.6 cm,
Rim diameter: 15.9-16.2 cm, Base diameter: 8.1 cm

The warming bowl in the shape of a lotus blossom is found among lacquer wares, metal objects, and ceramics. It was not only a classical Sung dynasty shape, but also highly favored by the Koreans, becoming a popular vessel type among Koryo celadons.

Petal-rim celadon bowl See larger image
Petal-rim celadon bowl
12th century, Koryo Dynasty, Korea
Height: 9.5 cm, Body diameter: 14.2 cm
On loan from the Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka

The warming bowl in the shape of a lotus blossom is found among lacquer wares, metal objects, and ceramics. It was not only a classical Sung dynasty shape, but also highly favored by the Koreans, becoming a popular vessel type among Koryo celadons.

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III. Hallmark of the Imperial Clan

Many of the treasured Ju porcelains in the National Palace Museum collection also have stories behind them waiting to be told. Though centuries have elapsed and their history obscured, the inscriptions engraved on the bottom of these Ju wares are like records that take us back in time, each one of their characters preserving the memory of a time in their transmission.

Because Emperor Kao-tsung of the Southern Sung had a favored consort surnamed Liu, who had the sobriquet Feng-hua and two seals to this effect, this celadon dish engraved with the two characters “Feng-hua” has been indirectly linked to Consort Liu and therefore considered as having once been in the collection of the Southern Sung court.

The bottom of the round celadon washer engraved with imperial poetry of the Ch’ien-lung Emperor of the Ch’ing dynasty, judging from the line, “Celadon of the Sung House of Chao was established in Ju-chou, its glaze said to be made from agate powder”, indicates that this is one of the rare Ju porcelains that had been identified by him and that it had passed through the Ch’ing court collection of the 18th century.

Round wash basin with greenish-blue glaze See larger image
Round wash basin with greenish-blue glaze
Northern Sung Ju Ware
Height: 3.5 cm, Depth: 2.5 cm, Rim diameter: 12.9 cm,
Base diameter: 9 cm

The Ch’ing emperor Ch’ien-lung, in his imperial poetry, used the lines, “Celadon of the Sung House of Chao was established in Ju-chou, its glaze said to be made from agate powder” to explain the background of Ju ware production, revealing in concrete terms the imperial understanding of Ju wares.

Oval wash basin with greenish-blue glaze See larger image
Oval wash basin with greenish-blue glaze
Northern Sung Ju Ware
Height: 2.7 cm, Depth: 2.1 cm, Rim width: 9.8 cm,
Rim length: 14.2 cm, Bottom diameter: 4.2 cm

Among Ju wares, very few reveal the decorative technique of mold impressions. Works like this one are found in the collections of the Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art in London, England, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in the US.

Yen-chih liu-kuang album Boat-shaped brush washer (Ju Ware, Sung Dynasty) See larger image
“Yen-chih liu-kuang” album Boat-shaped brush washer (Ju Ware, Sung Dynasty)
18th century, Ch’ing Dynasty
Album leaf, ink and color on paper, 55.5 x 41.2 cm

In the record of the collection of artifacts in curio boxes, text and illustration appear together, presenting a detailed record of the name, size, and background of each work therein. Much in the manner of an archival catalogue, it also shows the importance attached by the imperial family to collecting.

Yen-chih liu-kuang album Chime-shaped wash basin (Ju Ware, Sung Dynasty) See larger image
"Yen-chih liu-kuang" album Chime-shaped wash basin (Ju Ware, Sung Dynasty)
18th century, Ch’ing Dynasty
Album leaf, ink and color on paper, 55.5 x 41.2 cm

In the record of the collection of artifacts in curio boxes, text and illustration appear together, presenting a detailed record of the name, size, and background of each work therein. Much in the manner of an archival catalogue, it also shows the importance attached by the imperial family to collecting.

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IV. Of Unsurpassed Skill

The mysterious and unique sky-blue glaze of Ju wares is recorded in Sung dynasty texts as containing a considerable amount of powdered agate. From today's scientific point of view, we know that agate is a kind of quartz whereby silica is deposited in layers. However, the addition of agate powder does not have a significant influence on the color, quality, or crackle of glaze. Nonetheless, the area of production for Ju wares also was abundant in agate, and mining of this semi-precious mineral took place several times in the Northern Sung period. Combined with the glistening, slight rose-pink luster to Ju wares, it invariably reminds one of this record that "agate was added to the glaze".

In the quest for perfection in porcelain, many Ju wares were completely covered with glaze before firing, leaving only marks on the bottom where spurs separated them from other stacked pieces and the saggers. This arrangement prevented distortion of the objects and also allowed the glaze to cover virtually the entire piece. The incredible skill involved in this process resulted in the spur marks remaining after the firing of Ju wares as being only the size of sesame seeds. Surviving pieces of Ju ware plates, vases, bowls, and slightly larger washers have five spur marks on the bottom, small washers and dishes have three, and narcissus planters five or six spur marks.

Narcissus planter with greenish-blue glaze See larger image
Narcissus planter with greenish-blue glaze
Northern Sung Ju Ware
Height: 6.1 cm, Depth: 3.8 cm, Rim width: 15.8 cm,
Rim length: 23.1 cm, Bottom width: 13 cm, Bottom length: 19.5 cm

Judging from an oval spurred firing tool that appears to have been designed specifically for firing narcissus planters (excavated from the Ju kiln site at the Ch’ing-liang Temple at Pao-feng county in Honan province), narcissus planters were probably fired in the so-called central kiln area. Most surviving narcissus planters have six spur marks on the bottom. This piece, perhaps slipping during the firing process or for some other unknown reason, has only five spur marks remaining, forming a feature of its firing quite different from others.

Temperature tester insert biscuit See larger image
Temperature tester insert biscuit
Northern Sung (Ch’ing-liang Temple kiln site)
Height: 3.3 cm, Length: 14 cm, Width: 11.2 cm
On loan from the Henan Provincial Administration of Cultural Heritage

A temperature tester was used to confirm the temperature inside the kiln and observe the color of the glaze. The temperature tester insert biscuits that have been excavated from the site of the Ju kilns, judging from their ten holes, suggest that each firing may have required more than ten trials and observations in order to achieve the intended results, showing that the process of firing Ju wares was quite complex and time-consuming.

Sagger See larger image
Sagger
Northern Sung (Ch’ing-liang Temple kiln site)
On loan from the Henan Provincial Administration of Cultural Heritage

When Ju wares were fired, raw clay pieces were stacked inside saggers, the surfaces of which were covered with a layer of flame-resistant clay, preventing the pieces from coming into direct contact with each other and protecting them from the kiln flames. This resulted in the high purity of the porcelain glazes and its translucent luster.

Kiln utensils See larger image
Kiln utensils
Northern Sung (Ch’ing-liang Temple kiln site)
On loan from the Henan Provincial Administration of Cultural Heritage

The bedder and ring setter were placed underneath pieces, and during the firing process they served to separate the pieces from the sagger. The bedder and setter with spurs were used for support firing. Those without spurs were used in setter firing. Oval setters were kiln utensils designed specifically for the firing of narcissus planters.