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The Magic of Kneaded Clay: Ceramic Collection of the National Palace Museum

  • #Ceramics


Ceramics is a sign of civilization. From processing the clay, shaping the forms, applying the glazes to firing the products in kilns, raw materials go through many changes as soft clay becomes durable ceramic. The forms, glazes and decorative patterns on ceramics are diverse and varied due to their being created under different cultural and social conditions. Emperors, officials, potters and users of ceramics all contributed to the formation of various period styles in China. What is attractive about ceramics is that it echoes and records the long course of history, the network development of kilns also reflecting the phenomenon of cross-cultural interactions that took place over time.

Most ceramics in the National Palace Museum collection were inherited from the Qing imperial court and passed through many places before being moved to Taiwan. Originally from the palaces in Beijing, Rehe and Shenyang, these ceramics possess a distinct accession number that can help trace the original location at which each piece was once stored or displayed. It makes the collection of the National Palace Museum unique and distinct from other public and private museums. Even though the Museum does not have many pre-Song dynasty ceramics, it boasts many famous wares unparalleled anywhere in the world, including renowned Song wares, doucai porcelains of the Chenghua reign in the Ming dynasty, painted enamel porcelains of the High Qing as well as official wares of various Ming and Qing dynasty reigns.

This exhibition illustrates a history of development in Chinese ceramics based on the collection of the National Palace Museum. From the perspective of various glaze colors, it is possible to see how glazes evolved at different kilns and periods as well as how official models of decoration formed over time. The exhibition is divided into four sections: "Neolithic Age to the Five Dynasties," "Song to Yuan Dynasties," "Ming Dynasty," and "Qing Dynasty". "Neolithic Age to the Five Dynasties" represents a long period of time when ceramics evolved from primitive beginnings to a more sophisticated stage. Using the perspective of daily aesthetics, "Song to Yuan Dynasties" explores the decorations and beauty of various wares from different kilns. The "Ming Dynasty" section theme narrates the establishment of the Jingdezhen imperial kilns, as porcelain production became a state affair and local civilian kilns competed for market share. The "Qing Dynasty" section shows how three emperors, Kangxi, Yongzheng, and Qianlong, personally gave orders for the imperial kilns, the influence of official models reaching a peak at that time. As the dynasty began to decline, the styles of folk art began to creep into late Qing imperial wares.

Ceramics is testimony to the realm of human activities. Apart from allowing visitors to grasp an idea of how Chinese ceramics developed, it is also hoped that the exhibition will generate more interaction and feedback so that this historical collection can continue to inspire new ideas.