Qing Dynasty Mixed. Glaze Zisha Pottery

Qing Dynasty Mixed. Glaze Zisha Pottery

Text/photos :Yi Tao


There are currently two explanations regarding the origin of adding mixed glaze to Zisha pottery. The first states that it was a creation of the Ou kiln of Ou Ziming during the Ming Dynasty; while the second says that Chen Zhongmei spread the technique from Jingdezhen during the Ming Dynasty. Based on an analysis of currently available materials, I believe the first explanation is more likely. According to Ming author Gu Yingtai's Bo Wu Yao Lan ("Exhibit of Broad Knowledge"), "A new firing technique uses an Yixing sandy soil body and a small amount of liquid glaze. There are fine examples, but they are not durable." Tao Shuo ("Pottery Speak") also records:

"During the Ming, Mr. Ou of Jiangnan's Changzhou prefecture created porcelain wares at the Ou Kiln." Fortunately, several extremely rare Ming Dynasty Ou kiln Zisha relics were discovered among a recently issued Beijing Forbidden City Zisha collection. They prove that the use of glazed decoration on Zisha pieces began during the Ming Dynasty Types of Mixed Glaze

Historically, Zisha pottery with glazed decoration can be divided into three types: The first is the cloisonne enamel created by emperor Kangxi during the Qing Dynasty. The second is Yi chun, which applies chun kiln roasting to Zisha clay (photo 3). The third is mixed glaze Zisha pottery, which was popular during the Qing Dynasty.

Cloisonne enamel Zisha began during the reign of emperor Kangxi (1661 - 1722). Because of the high level of firing technique required, the forbidden city is the only currently known producer of the enamel-According to Qing palace records, all of the existing Yixing clay cloisonne enamel objects produced under the supervision of Kangxi are stored at the Taipei Palace Museum, These pieces are extremely rare and should be considered national treasures. Qing Dynasty Yi chun ceramics were carried forward and enhanced by Ge Mingxiang and were particularly favored by the Japanese. Ge family Yi chun pieces from the Qing Dynasty can still frequently be found in Japanese antique markets. Most of the currently known Qing Yi chun objects are decorative pieces. Tea utensils are relatively few in comparison. We may discuss this category in a later special topic, but in this article we focus on Qing Dynasty mixed glaze Zisha utensils.

Historical Research

Wu Jian's Yang Xian Famous Potters written during the reign of Qianlong (1736 to 1795) mentions: "Yang Xian ceramic pots rose to prominence during the Ming Dynasty. The best of them command prices equivalent to gold and jade. After more than one hundred years, the great generation is gone. Now the pieces are rough and unrefined, None can be truly enjoyed."This text illustrates two points of view of the author living in the time of Qianlong: First, he believes that Yixing Zisha created during the reign of Qianlong is of ordinary quality and not equal to the^ refinement of earlier periods. Second, the author observed Zisha teapots covered in glaze, which obscured the simple and natural quality of the Zisha. As a results he believes that none were worthy of appreciation.

In addition to the documentary evidence from the Qianlong period, artifacts include the painted mountain and water design Wang Lun teapot uncovered in the tomb of Qian-long (photo 4) held in the Zhejiang Provincial Museum, and the Qianjia period (1796-1821) black ground painted dragon Han Fang pot (photo 5) held in the Nanjing Museum, It can be seen from these two museum pieces that Yixing Zisha with colored glaze decoration was extremely prominent by at least the time of Qianlong. Of these two museum pieces, the former is based on a point-color mountain and water arrangement, while the latter applies a full-color black ground dragon trail. Based on various historical indicators, the Wang Lun style mountain-water scenery pot is likely older than the Han Fang black ground dragon pot- Individual observation of other historical point color and full color method relics indicates no distinct historical division in terms of which came first. In the past, collectors have argued that point color was used before full color, but additional evidence is required to support this view-point.

Evolution of Production Methods

Mixed glaze, also known as soft glaze, originated during the Qing Dynasty reign of Kangxi as a development of the Ming Dynasty five-color technique. The mixed glaze production technique was at its most refined during the reign of Yongzheng (1722 - 1735) and is conse-quently also known as Yongzheng mixed glaze. The addition of mixed glaze decoration to Zisha utensils must have occurred around this time. Numerous examples show the surges in competition between Jingdezhen and Yixing kilns during the Qing Dynasty. The most exquisite currently known mixed glazed Zisha pieces are from the Yongzheng and Qianlong periods. The technique gradually weakened after the Jiaqing/Daoguang period (1796 - 1850). Although the form was passed down, the spirit was missing. By the late Qing and Republic of China periods, it had fallen out of lavor. Productions were of law grade and featured gaudy colors. Consequently, it gradually declined and began to disappear from the varieties of Yixing Zisha pottery.

The Yixing Zisha mixed glaze decorative firing technique is colloquially known as "second fire." Various colored glazes are applied to fired Zisha pieces, creating designs including flowers, mountain and water scenery, opera characters^ fortuitous symbols, rare animals, and famous poetry.

This creates rich and varied glaze designs. The colored pieces are again placed in the kiln and fired at 800-850℃. It is commonly believed that application of glaze designs to Zisha pieces had a purpose other than adding colorful designs to Yixing pieces and increasing their value. For some pieces damage in the initial kiln process with firing imperfections or light cracking, mixed glaze was applied to cover up these flaws.

Mysterious Production Marks of Glazed Zisha

Among nearly all of the passed down glazed Zisha pots, we find written marks or totemshaped symbols ort the lids and bodies, of non-uniform size and black glaze. At first glance, these may appear to be character-based annotations. In fact most of these markings are not legible writing but are indicators used to match the lid and body in the second kiln firing of the Zisha pieces.

Why are these lid and body markings needed in the second kiln firing? To avoid dripping of the glaze over the lid and body causing them to stick together,the lid and body must be placed separately during the second low-temperature firing. During a single kiln batch, many pieces of the same type are fired. To facilitate quickly matching the numerous separated lids and bodies, these simple distinguishing marks were added.

Consequently, the markings of the lid and body of a single glazed pot should be identical. This point is confirmed by the numerous glazed pieces passed down from the Qing Dynasty. By the same reasoning, if the kiln marker of the body and lid cannot be matched, the lid and pot body are quite likely mismatched.