26 May 2020

Introduction to Song Dynasty five Great Kiln and Song Ceramic Characteristics

The depiction of the Song Dynasty (960–1279)  five great kilns was widely reported as a result of Song ceramic wares gaining fame among Chinese and foreign collectors.  Song Dynasty ceramic ware making and art became mature during this period. It was the pinnacle of Chinese ceramic art, brought about by its prominent monochromatic glaze features and its elegant tone.

The depiction of the Song Dynasty (960–1279)  five great kilns was widely reported as a result of Song ceramic wares gaining fame among Chinese and foreign collectors.  Song Dynasty ceramic ware making and art became mature during this period. It was the pinnacle of Chinese ceramic art, brought about by its prominent monochromatic glaze features and its elegant tone. The emergence of a large number of great kilns and prized ceramic wares, top of among the list are the five Song Dynasty great kilns. They are respectively Ruyao, Junyao, Guanyao, Dingyao and Geyao.  The character 窑 (Yao) means both ceramic kilns or wares.

At present, the ancient ceramic kiln relics have been found in 170 counties across China, of which the Song Dynasty kiln relics alone has been found in 130 counties. Chinese ceramic historians generally summarize the Song Dynasty ceramic kilns into six ceramic kilns systems, namely:  Ding kiln system, Yaozhou kiln system, Jun kiln system and Chizhou kiln system in the northern region.  While in the southern region, there are Long Quan Yao (commonly called Celadon in the west) and Jingdezhen green-white ceramic ware.  However, it would be in good order if we appreciate the ceramic treasures of Song five great kiln in according to the collector circle or per Ming Dynasty Royal Collection Catalogue "Xuan De Ding Li Pu" 《宣德鼎彝谱》

Ru Kiln

Introduction: Ru kiln is the first and foremost of the Song Dynasty's five great kilns. It is located at present-day Baofeng County, Henan Province, the town of QingliangSi Village. It was within Ruzhou territory during the Song Dynasty. (kilns sites were in present-day Henan, Baofeng, Qing Liang Si, Ruzhou Wen miao, Yanhedian, Zhang Gong Xiang, etc.) Hence, it was named Ru Kiln. The area of the kiln found in the archaeological excavation was about 250,000 square meters, which was considered very large at the time. There were two types of kilns, one of which was selected by the imperial court of the late Northern Song Dynasty to exclusively fabricate wares for the court.

Characteristics: Among Song five great kilns, the clay chosen for Ruyao ware is very refined.  The clay contains trace amounts of copper, one could see glim reddish colour if view the object against the light, the clay colour is greyish yellow. It is commonly known as "scented grey clay". This type of clay is frequently seen at Ruzhou Mang Chuan Yan He Dian汝州蟒川严和店, Dayu Donggou大峪东沟, Ruzhou Wenmiao汝州文庙, Qing Liang Si 清凉寺Kiln sites, etc. Still, the clay in Ruzhou Zhanggongxiang汝州张公巷 Ruyao ware is however greyish white.  This clay is comparatively whiter than other kilns. Coincidently or not, it is also one of the main characteristics of Northern Song Guangyao.

Main vessel type: Plates, bowls, bottles, brush washer, stem cup, narcissist flower pot, etc.

Ru Kiln Sky Glazed Bowl

Guan Kiln

Song Dynasty Guanyao was directly built and operated by the court. They are divided into Northern Song called Guanci (wares exclusively meant for the imperial court) and  Southern Song Guanyao.  Northern Song Guanyao was commissioned by Emperor SongHuiZong in late Northern Song Dynasty (960 to 1127).   However, the specific kiln site has not been found yet. The Southern Song Guan Yao Kiln sites were set up by his grandson Emperor Song Gaozong after he migrated south when Northern Song was overrun by Jing Dynasty.   One kiln site was set up in LinAn临安 (present-day Hangzhou), called Xiuneishi 修内司, and another one was subsequently set up in Jiaotanxia 郊坛下 ." According to research, Xiuneishi 修内司 kiln site is located at the foot of Hangzhou Fenghuang Mountain.  While Jiaotan GuanYao is located at Wuguishan Moutain vicinity.   For the purpose of differentiation.  The Northern Guanyao is called Guanci (官瓷) while the Southern Song variant is called Nan Song Guanyao.  Between them, the Northern ware is heavily potted while southern variety is thinly potted.

The Northern Song Guan Ci and the Southern Song Guan Yao are significantly different, the Northern Song Guan ci clay body is markedly thicker. The clay is dark grey, purple or black in colour. The glaze colour can be light green, greenish-white, moon white, etc. The quality of the glaze is elegantly lustrous and transparent. Its glaze is well known for its large crackles. For Southern Song Guan Yao, the clay is black, dark grey, light grey, beige, etc. the glaze applied can be thick and thin, the quality of the clay is refined. The glaze is milky and most has crackles. In terms of colour, it is greenish-white, light green, greyish green, moon white, beige, etc.

Main vessel type: Guanyao wares mostly imitate ancient bronze vessels.  In addition to bowls, plates, dishes and brush washers etc., utensil, it also produced the ceramic imitation of ancient bronze ware in Shang (商) Dynasty (16th century BC to 1059 BC) such as wine vessel, cauldron, furnace, stove, goblet, etc., vessels for display and worship.

Northern Song Guan Ceramic

Ge Kiln

Geyao resembles Guan Yao, it too has the typical 'purple mouth iron foot' characteristics, as well as crackle network. However, so far, its kiln site has not been found yet. There is controversy in the academic community regarding its period of production, some think it was not during the Song Dynasty, but Yuan Dynasty. According to some unofficial estimates, the quantity of Ge wares pass down from ancient time are rather small.

Geyao glaze is dull, it emits butter-like gloss. However, it is rich in colour, there is beige, greenish-white, milky colour, etc. It is covered overall with the network of "golden wire and iron line" crackle pattern - a mesh network of thicker black crackle lines interwoven with a mesh network of fine red and yellow crackle lines.  Geyao wares typically have thick glaze and in some places it is as thick as the core clay.  The glaze contains a high concentration of big and small air bubbles stacked together. This is one of the essential criteria to determine its authenticity.  Similar to Guanyao in the Song Dynasty five great kilns, the clay is typically purplish-black or brownish-yellow in colour. The mouth of the vessel exhibits brownish yellow colour due to the thinning of the glaze.  At the same time, the unglazed foot is black in colour, which is commonly referred to as 'purple mouth Iron foot'.  This is also one of the critical factors in determining the authenticity of Geyao.

Main vessel type: the type of ware passing down from ancient time includes all kinds of vases, stoves, brush washers, plates, bowls, guan (container).

Song Ge Kiln Multiple Snout Vases

Jun Kiln

Junyao is located in Yu County, Henan Province (present-day Yuzhou City). Yuzhou was then a nation called Xiayuguo in ancient time. Junyao belonged to the northern kiln system and was founded in Tang Dynasty but flourished in the Northern Song Dynasty, and was repeatedly imitated in subsequent generations. The significant production period of Junyao is said to be during Song,  Jin, Yuan dynasties. At the same time, some scholars opined that those identified as Song dynasty Jun Yao wares on display in museums are actually works of art from early Ming Dynasty Yongle and Xuande period. They are official Junyao kilns and civilian Junyao kilns. Official Junyao kiln sites are in Yu County in Henan province (then known as Junzhou).

Among the Song five great kilns, Ru, Guan and Ge wares are considered as blue ceramic. Although Jun ware is also classified under blue ceramics kilns, it is however not blue-based ceramic ware. Junyao clay is very refined, the glaze is gorgeous and eye-catching, and rich in diversity. There are rose-purple, begonia red, eggplant purple, sky blue, cinnabar, fiery red, and flambe-glaze. The successful production of Junyao wares had opened an entirely new realm of ceramic work of art.

Main vessel type:  Guan (container), ewer, floral mouth vase, double gourd vase, three-legged plates, etc.  Among them, ewer and guan are more common.  During the last Song dynasty, Junyao was making various type of flower pots and trays exclusively for the imperial court.

Jun Kiln Floral Mouth Washer


Ding Kiln

Dingyao is among the earliest kiln to produce royal ceramic ware for Northern Song Dynasty court. It was also the kiln which produced white ceramic ware among the five great kilns in Song Dynasty period. The kiln is located in Quyang, Hebei Province. Ding kiln comprises of North Ding and Sothern Ding. Before the Northern Song Dynasty, Ding kiln site was situated in Dingzhou in the north, whose products are called Beiding (North Ding). After the Song Dynasty moved capital south, part of the craftsman moved to Jingdezhen, and other group moved to Jizhou.  Their products are called Nanding (South Ding).  The glaze colour of those produced in Jingdezhen was powdery, so it was also known as powdery Ding.

Ding Kiln produced mainly white colour ceramic wares. Still, it also produced other colours too, such as black ware (Hei Ding), purple glaze (Zi Ding), green glaze (Lu Ding), red glaze (Hong Ding), etc. They are invariably all using white clay, covered with a layer of high-temperature coloured glaze. The kiln is famous for its rich and colour pattern decorations. Decorative techniques mainly include white glazed printing, white glazed carved flowers and white glazed scratch flowers. Other types include white glazed scrape flowers and gold strokes flowers, the pattern is pretty and elegant.

Main vessel type: Ding kiln wares are mostly bowls, plates, bottles, dishes, container boxes and pillows. But it also produced water pitchers, conch etc., Buddhist worship wares, the quantity is however small, mainly used as a tribute into the court.

Ding Kiln Phoenix Head Water Pitcher
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