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Jingdezhen The Porcelain Capital

In a remote hilly part of China lies the city of Jingdezhen, renowned the world over as the country’s ceramics capital. Its history can be traced back for 2000 years, but it was in the Han Dynasty (206-220AD) that experiments with porcelain began.

By the time of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) porcelain production had been perfected. The area was abundant in the fine kaolin used in its manufacture and the wooded hills around the city provided fuel for kilns.

Before 1004 Jingdezhen was known as Changnan because of its location on the River Chang. The name came to be used to refer to the ceramics produced there and when they were exported foreign tongues changed Changnan to China. It is believed that the ceramics produced there were of such importance that they gave the country its name.

 

(Fifteenth- century ‘chicken cup”, a tiny bowl with underglaze painting of two roosters and a chicken tending her young, was sold for $36.05 million USD in 2014)

(Professional trimmer in ancient ceramic factory)
 

When porcelain first reached Europe, people were so enchanted with it they named it “white gold”. It was many years before Europeans discovered how it was possible to make such strong yet delicate ceramics in such a pure white colour.

Some of the best known wares are icy blue Qingbai ware and blue and white Qinghua ware. Qingbai, the pale colour of finest jade, was produced in Jingdezhen in the late 10th century and was traditionally found on low wide forms such a simple bowls and dishes.

Qinghua dates from the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) and is characterized by cobalt blue decorations on the white porcelain base. Cobalt was at the time twice as valuable as gold. Production of blue and white china reached a peak of excellence in the late 17th century in Jingdezhen and continues to be made there to this day.

 

(Icy blue vases, crafted by Hao Wang)

(Blue and white porcelain vase from Ming dynasty)

 

Jingdezhen remains internationally important for its ceramics and is home to many master craftsmen. Pieces created there are still highly sought after. Local mines still provide top quality kaolin and despite being relatively difficult to access the city is a hub for all those keen to observe and learn about ceramics.

As well as many artists living and working in Jingdezhen there are also numerous workshops and studios where visiting students can learn from the best ceramicists in the country. Many different forms of decoration and glazing are practised and often artisans excel at one particular process, with a single piece passing through several expert hands.

Internationally renowned modern artist Ai Weiwei worked with ceramicists in the city to produce a hundred million porcelain sunflower seeds for his Tate Modern Exhibit in 2010. It is the quality and attention to detail of Jingdezhen’s master craftsmen that make the city unique.

 

(The millions of “Sunflower Seeds” are hand-painted with black slip on porcelain)

 

Over recent years smart cafes and bars have appeared, alongside upmarket shops displaying high end showpiece ceramics. On the outskirts of town factories mass produce cheaper lower quality wares, but the young upwardly mobile visitors to Jingdezhen are not there for those, they demand the quality and perfection of individual handcrafted pieces made by artisans who have studied for decades the traditions of the previous millennium.

Here at Delain, we support ceramic artists and hope to showcase and share their inspirational work with ceramic lovers and everyone that cherishes the craftsmanship and the beauty of day-to-day living. We hope Delain, together with the ceramic artists, may one day make “Made in China” ceramics become the prestigious label it once was.

 

 

© 2016 Delain

References and further readings:
<China’s Porcelain Capital> by Maris Boyd Gillette, 2016
<A Book of Porcelain. Fine examples in the Victoria & Albert Museum> by Bernard Rackham, Illustrator William Gibb, 2015
<Jingdezhen, China: The birthplace of a nation and its ‘white gold’>, Independent, by Gabrielle Jaffe,2015, link: http://www.independent.co.uk/travel/jingdezhen-china-the-birthplace-of-a-nation-and-its-white-gold-10172729.html
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