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Shadowy celadon: Cao Chunsheng describes the characteristics of shadowy celadon sculpture in Jingdezhen in the Song Dynasty.


CERAMICS MAKING IN JlNGDEZHEN CAN BE DATED back to the Han Dynasty (from 206 BC to 200 AD) and boomed in the Song Dynasty (from 960 AD to 1279 AD). Jingdezhen was originally named Changnanzhen. Since Emperor Zhenzong in the Song Dynasty highly appreciated Jingdezhen ceramics and allowed it for royal usage and ordered the Chinese characters be printed at the bottom of ceramic items, the name of Jingdezhen took place of Changnanzhen and this name has remained till now, representing exquisite ceramics. In the Song Dynasty, green-white porcelains took a large account in Jingdezhen. The fetus glaze then was thin, with a green tint to its whiteness and thus got the names of shadowy celadon, credited as blue as the sky, as bright as a mirror, as thin as paper and, once struck, it will produce a sound as sweet as the bell. One of the representative kilns is Hutian kiln in the eastern suburb of Jingdezhen, which has manufactured a great variety of fine porcelains with admirable craftsmanship. Hutian kiln made an outstanding contribution to the development of shadowy celadon.


During the Song Dynasty, shadowy celadon was a major variety of ceramic products. Shadowy celadon was a unique creation in the middle of the North Song Dynasty (1000 AD to 1078 AD), older than the standard porcelain in the last 20 years of the North Song (1106 AD to 1126 AD). The patterns on small shadowy celadon in that period show their close relation with the patterns on gold, silver and silk products in the Tang Dynasty (618 AD to 907 AD) but differ greatly from the patterns made in the Ding kiln (1). The development of the ceramics making industry in Jingdezhen, together with that in Longquan kiln (2) in the south, Ding kiln and Yaozhou kiln (3) in the north, had ceased to follow the old-fashioned techniques in the Yue kiln (4) and Xing kiln (5) and opened up a new way to produce exquisite and semi-jade shadowy celadon (Figure 1). One of the representative kilns is Hutian kiln in the eastern suburb, a 700 year old site that has always manufactured thin and greenish glazed porcelain of a great variety with admirable craftsmanship.


The materials of shadowy celadon in the Song Dynasty were different from those of common ceramics made from quartz, felspar and kaolinite. It was composed of a large amount of glass, mica and quartz remains. In the Five Dynasties (907 AD to 960 AD) and the Song Dynasty, only chinastone were used for porcelain making, to be burned up to 1200[degrees]C. The glaze used for shadowy celadon is a typical homogenous glaze that is easy to be melted. There is little bubbling, devitrification and other solids in glaze layers. Therefore, it is transparent and clear, smooth and bright. Shadowy celadon glaze contains almost the same amount of iron as that of white glaze. But it is usually white-green or water-green.

Since then, the blue-and-white in Jingdezhen can match celadon in the south and white porcelain in the north. It is white as jade, clear and transparent with its special characteristics.


The firing techniques of shadowy celadon in Jingdezhen had gradually improved in the Song Dynasty and the ceramic body was pure and white with crystal glaze, which brought more elegance and flavour to the modelling of ceramic sculpture in that period. And this kind of modelling accorded with the aesthetic standards in Song Dynasty which is "Comply with nature and underestimate the artefacts." Ceramic sculpture in the Song period, like other types of porcelain, was fully connotative and graceful, with profoundness and exquisiteness, which expressively denoted a strong preference of literati and scholars of the Song Dynasty.


The Song Dynasty is famous for its figurative sculpture such as sculptures of officials, the old and stablemen. These sculptures, with deep ideational meanings, reflect a strong sense of customs and worship of God. Buddhism was widespread in the Song and closely related to people's daily life. With regards to ceramic sculpture, god, such as Avalokitesvara, Bodhisattva, was sculpted more into human like figures, ridding the sculptures of the traditional unattainable and solemn appearance of god, but was given more humanity and earthly value. The popular aesthetic standard for sculptures is delicacy and scholarliness. Therefore, most Song sculptures were carefully carved in outline and clothing.

In the Song Dynasty, kilns had strong cultural connotations. There were also a great number of finger made sculptures of merry babies, which looked lovely and bright. Crafts made by models, or semi-models, or completely hand made all showed hand made traces, most of which revealed the innovative inspiration and cleverness retained on the textures of these products. When blue glaze was applied and the glaze layers spread into the hand made textures, quasi-jade beauty appeared. In addition, on the site of Hutian kiln there were unearthed many erotic finger made sculptures of human o'gans and Jove-maJai g. It is a reflection of ancient potters' lives and their pleasures or of the local wedding customs.

In the Song Dynasty, ceramic pillows were usually sculptured into children, ladies, lions or tigers, which symbolise good luck or warding off evils. In particular, the child form was the most popular (Figure 2). Children were regarded as important in families in the Song period and even more important than that in the Tang dynasty. The Song people had a strong attachment to the child-figure sculpture for the sake of good luck, which originated from the customs of considering children as a symbol of life. It also revealed the folks' pursuit of quiet, comfortable and happy lives. Child-figure sculpture has a special meaning in ancient China. The fine model, quasi-jade glaze and pure mud material have contributed greatly to the achievement of elegant and marvellous ceramic sculptures and pushed the ceramic figurative sculpture in the Song to a pure and refined aesthetical level.


Only a few of shadowy celadon sculptures in the Song dynasty were made through model frames and most of them were handmade and hand-carved. Different parts of a sculpture were made separately and then connected together. Such ceramic sculpture style was quite similar to that of Ding kiln, Cizhou kiln and Jizhou Kiln, which all demonstrated the skilfulness, grace and beauty of all crafts in the Song dynasty. In Hutian kiln, there were yin-model and yang-model. All of the raw materials were chosen from the mountain soil with added porcelain clay, to be burnt at a low temperature until they got the properties of both hardness and water absorption. Model frames only existed in the South Song dynasty (1127 AD to 1279 AD), before which all sculptures were completely handmade.

Careful analysis and research on the unearthed sculptures revealed that the tools for producing ceramic sculptures were mainly made from bamboo and wood in the Song period and few of them were made from iron. Potters usually selected local materials and created ingenious carving tools. For example, they made a kind of flat bamboo pen of one to two centimetres with a diagonal blade to carve waves and flowers. It looks like the modern multiple brush for painting and, at the end of pen, fine bamboo filaments are combined into an echelon shape. The creation of the tool vastly improved carving efficiency and contributed much to the artistic effect.

The decoration technology of 'half-knife mud' is unique to Jingdezhen shadowy celadon (Figure 3), which also distinguishes celadon in Jingdezhen from that made in other celadon production kilns. Decoration patterns by such technique are usually half-deep and half-shallow, which turns blue and white respectively after applying glaze and burning. The combination of the white and blue perfectly displays the decorative effects of the patterns.

To make ceramic pillows, it usually needs to make different models of each part. The steps are as follows: to flatten the pillow pieces on the gauze beneath, to cut it symmetrically, to press each part forcibly into models, to enforce the interface inside with porcelain earth, to make the body part model, to carve and to attach additional patterns to the main body for the purpose of partial decoration, to save an elliptic hollow at the pillow lid interface for later reinforcement and moulding inside, to connect the pillow body and pillow surface when the moisture is appropriate, to dig a hole at one side for ventilation during the burning process, at last to add more porcelain clay to strengthen and mould.

Different colours remaining on the unearthed Guanyin figure in Gao'an show that this sculpture was first burned into a colourless one and then painted with colours. Such technology is quite similar to the mud, wood and stone sculptures in the same period. It also demonstrates that ceramic sculpture making had not gotten rid of the influence from mud and stone painting. Later, beautiful Buddha sculptures which had been applied glaze all over the body became more and more prevalent while colourless sculptures with colourful painting decreased. The ceramic sculpture techniques also went from better to best. Small sculptures were glazed with 'dipping glaze' technology which left the bottom glazeless, while large ones were glazed by the 'blowing glaze' method. Usually sculptures are burned in large containers with a flat bottom, while small sculptures are in shallow-bottomed ones.

In the Song Dynasty, people attached much importance to delicate model, jade-like glaze, pure mud fetus, which constituted the aesthetic orientation of 'quiet elegance' in sculptural modelling in Jingdezhen and pushed ceramics in the Song Dynasty to another level of perfection. In ceramic sculpture, the mud nature can be brought into full play. Moreover, the transparency and greenishness of the fetus glaze in decoration added more subtlety and delicacy to the sculptural modelling. In addition, the sculptural style in this period was mainly influenced by Tibetan Buddhism, which absorbed and transformed the complicated, grand and delicate decorative style, formed a unique taste in sculpture making and further improved craftsmanship in ceramic sculpture modelling.

(1.) Ding kiln: located at Jianci Village and western and eastern Yanshan Village in Quyang County in Hebei Province. It began to make ceramics between 898 AD and 906 AD, flourished between 960 AD and 1279 AD and declined between 1115 AD and 1368 AD.

(2.) Longquan kiln: mainly located at Longquan in Zhejiang Province, thus the name. It was opened between 220 AD and 280 AD and closed in 1911, with a ceramics making history of more than 1600 years.

(3.) Yaozhou kiln: located at Huangbaozhen in Tongchuan City in Shanxi Province. It began ceramics making in 618 AD and reached its heyday between 960 and 1 279, declining between 1206 AD and 1368 AD.

(4.) Yue kiln: a kiln making celadon in Southern China. Mainly located at Shangyu and Yuyao in Zhejiang Province with a history from 25 BC to 1279 AD.

(5.) Xing kiln: located at Neiqiu County in Hebei Province, which belonged to Xingzhou, thus the name of Xing kiln. It flourished between 618 AD to 960 AD and declined between 960 AD and 1279 AD.

Cao Chunsheng teaches in the School of Sculpture of Jingdezhen Ceramic Institute, Jiangxi, China. (
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Publication:Ceramics Technical
Date:Nov 1, 2012
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