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Asian Ceramics—the Exquisite Asian Art form - June 2011 Newsletter


Take a walk down any Asian art museum and you will find that beyond the highly prized calligraphy brush works, you will see a large variety of ceramics on display behind the glass cases.  Indeed, ceramics and its development has been closely tied to the history of Asia, from China, to Korea to Japan to countries further West in India all way to the Middle East. 

In fact, if one were to trace the development of ceramics back to its earliest origin, you will find that as early as the Neolithic times from 6000 to 1000 B.C, ceramics have already been around in the early settlements along the yellow river and Yangtze River valleys in China.  Over the years, the art and craft of producing ceramics ware have been perfected by artisans in China and beyond in Korea, Japan and further West. 


Ceramics is a term that can be applied to a wide range of materials, from glass to porcelain, it refers to the product of a heating and cooling process that results in an inorganic and non-metallic solid product often shaped to serve as tableware or jars and other forms of containers. 

Today, the term ceramics is widely used to denote specific wares made from clay or other earthen materials.  From pottery to sculpture, ceramics remains a big part of our lives as it was in the far history of our civilizations. 

Chinese Ceramics

When one looks at Asian ceramics, Chinese ceramics is a ubiquitous part of this art form that has been perfected over the course of millennia.  From the earliest humble beginnings made from clay to its sophistication and growth until its culmination in the development of porcelain, Chinese ceramics followed various paths of development.  With each passing dynasty, new aesthetics, technology and techniques were developed to improve the art of Chinese ceramics. 

A few notable Chinese ceramic phases and distinct styles include:  The Tang dynasty Sancai, the Ting ware, Ching pai ware, Black Glazed ware, Lung chuan celadon, and the Chun ware, all of which originated during the Sung dynasty where various regions began to develop their own distinct look and style each in competition with the other like a various blossoms in bloom, each vying for attention.  The Ming dynasty doucai probably remains to this day one of the most influential ceramic art styles with its distinctive dual blue and white under and over glaze. 

So popular was Chinese porcelain in the West during the 17th and 18th century that porcelain was referred to as china, and till today, the word china is still used in reference to porcelain wares.  (Think:  the commonly used idiom:  a bull in a china shop in reference to clumsiness.)

Exported to Europe through the early contact with China, porcelain was highly regarded for their lustrous appearance and delicate smooth finish.  The early attempts by Europeans to imitate porcelain production were unsuccessful, until the secret of porcelain production was revealed by a Jesuit priest in 1735. 

The secret, it turns out lies in the material out of which porcelain is made, termed:  Kaolinite.   Kaolinite is a clay mineral that is a key component of porcelain production.   Today, porcelain wares are produced all over the world, and the aesthetics of porcelain today has gone through even more amazing development with fusion across countries and culture. 

While China is still the country many would think of as the earliest practitioner of this craft of porcelain production, it should not be forgotten that porcelain was also produced in both Japan and Korea at approximately the same time.

Japanese Ceramics

Like China, Japan has a long history of ceramic art development that can also be traced back to Neolithic ages.  There is a common tendency to view Japanese ceramics as being highly influenced by Chinese ceramics.  There is some truth to this view, but the unique development of a distinct Japanese sense of aesthetics and ceramics style must not be discounted. 

Japan has been producing ceramics since the 4th century B.C.  The art of ceramic production travelled from China through Korea into Japan.  Often, by the time Chinese art and culture reaches Japan, it has already been filtered and transformed.  This is true of ceramics and as a result, Japanese ceramics were often unique creations that revealed a distinct Japanese aesthetics.

Japanese ceramics are divided into Jomon, Yayoi, Sue, Shigaraki, Oribe, and Celadon wares.  Jomon wares originated in the Jomon period (Japanese prehistoric period 14,000 B.C—300B.C).  The name Jomon refers to the cord-like patterns commonly found on the pottery of the period.  Yayoi wares followed the Jomon wares.  Known for their simple patterns or lack of patterns, Yayoi earthenware had the same baking process of production as Jomon wares.  They were both baked over an open fire.  This was followed by the development of Sue wares that were fired at over 1000°celcius.  These sometimes had a layer of natural ash glaze. 

For a long time, although methods of glazing had been introduced from China, unglazed stoneware remained popular in Japan for their functionality.  From the Kamakura period (1185-1333), Shigaraki wares began to be developed.  Recognizable for their warm orange hue, and almost golden appearance, Shigaraki wares were produced using the orange sandy clay by Biwa River of the Shigaraki area. 

For a long time, beginning in the 11th century up to the 16th century, Japan imported celadon, a form of white porcelain, from China as tea wares for tea ceremonies.  In late 16th century, however, leading tea masters began to favor the simpler aesthetics of the Korean celadon over the more elaborate Chinese versions.  As a response to this aesthetics shift, several Japanese kilns began to produce celadon in imitation of the Korean celadon, bringing us to the interesting intersection between Japan and China’s ceramic interaction, and leads us straight to the discussion of Korean ceramics.

Korean Ceramics

Less well known than Chinese ceramics, but no less exquisite in craftsmanship and beauty, Korean ceramics have as varied a history of artistic development as Chinese and Japanese ceramics.

Dating as far back as 8000B.C, Korean prehistoric ceramic wares are classified under Jeulmun pottery period and Mumun pottery period.  These were the earliest evidences of ceramics and were mostly undecorated storage vessels.  Korean ceramics began to develop more sophistication as it moved into the period of the three kingdoms (57 B.C—66 8 A.D).  Although most pottery of the period remain rough domestic wares, there were also many statues of royal figures, horses and guardian animals used in tombs and shrines for noblemen.  These were comparable to the figures of Han dynasty in China.

In the unified period of the Silla era (668 A.D—9 35 A.D), pottery continued to be simple in color, shape and design.  It was not until the 14th century with the advent of celadon that new glazes, better clays and myriads of variations began to develop. 

In fierce competition with the white porcelain of China at the time, Korean pottery masters decided to differentiate their work from Chinese celadon by keeping to an elegant simplicity in design.  This form of Korean white porcelain is known as Baekja.  Because of a variation in firing methods, countless variations of white porcelain were produced in this period from pure thick snowy whiteness to milky white to light blue and light yellow shades of white.
The Goryeo dynasty (918 A.D—1392 A.D) saw the height of small scale Korean ceramic works.  Ceramics of this era was known for a variety of shape and various glazes began to be used creating lively and intricate pieces.  This was followed by the Joseon period (1392—1910) that is generally known as the golden age of Korean ceramics.  With an explosion of colors, shapes and techniques, Korean ceramics reached its height.  It was also during this period, that Korean wares began to develop its own simpler aesthetics following the Confucian philosophy of purity and simplicity that reflects less pretentious and complex forms.

Exquisite Asian Art Form

Today, Asian ceramics continues to be loved and revered by collectors for their delightful forms, shapes, designs and colors.  Scholars and historians continue to study their development to find a deeper understanding into these countries’s historical past.  Ceramics will continue to be an art form that brings together the functionality of everyday ware with delicate designs of art works.

At Mrs. Lin’s Kitchen, we too celebrate the exquisite beauty of Asian ceramics.  From elegant Korean Celadon vases, to Japanese ceramic sake and tea ware, to a wide variety of Chinese ceramic tea and tableware, you will find delightful Asian ceramics that combines both functionality and beauty.




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