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Ding Ware 定瓷; Also Known As Dingyao Or Ting Ware

Ding ware, also known as Ting ware (Chinese: 定瓷; pinyin: Dìngcí) or Dingyao, represents a pinnacle of Chinese ceramic artistry, primarily produced in the prefecture of Dingzhou in Hebei province, northern China. The main kilns were located at Jiancicun or Jianci in Quyang County. Ding ware production spanned several dynasties, from the Tang (618-906) to the Yuan (1279-1368), with its zenith during the Northern Song dynasty (960-1279). The kilns “were in almost constant operation from the early eighth until the mid-fourteenth century.”

Characteristics and Production Techniques

The most characteristic Ding wares are thin porcelains with a white or greyish body and a nearly transparent white-tinted glaze, often described as stoneware. Chemical analyses reveal that these wares were typically made from kaolinitic clay without any petuntse or “porcelain stone.” The decoration was predominantly uncolored, featuring designs that were incised or executed in very shallow relief.

Ding ware’s renowned white glaze often had a slight cream or ivory tint, which distinguished it from the earlier blueish-tinted wares fired with wood in a reducing atmosphere. The transition to coal firing in the 10th century produced the characteristic “ivory” tint. Secondary wares had monochrome glazes in various colors, including rare black, red, brown, gold, and green. Notably, black Ding ware, with its high-gloss shine resembling lacquer, was highly prestigious and occasionally adorned with gold leaf designs.

Kiln Innovations and Decoration

The Ding kilns introduced significant advancements in ceramics technology. Initially, pieces were thrown on the potter’s wheel, but by the late 11th century, moulds began to be used, which allowed for intricate interior decorations. The exterior decorations, such as scrolling plant forms (lotus, peony) and simple animal motifs (ducks, fish), were hand-carved for some time before also adopting moulding techniques. The firing process involved placing bowls upside down in the kiln, necessitating the glaze to be wiped from the rims, which often led to the addition of thin metal rims in silver or a “brassy alloy.”

The kilns developed stepped saggars, enabling the firing of several bowls of slightly reducing sizes in the same saggar, thereby increasing kiln efficiency. This innovation, along with the unique decorative techniques, set Ding ware apart as a highly esteemed ceramic form.

Historical Significance and Influence

Ding ware was highly regarded throughout its production history, especially during the Northern Song dynasty, when it was the preeminent northern Chinese white ware. Its reputation extended to the scholar-literati class, wealthy merchants, and even the imperial court, although its rough rims and “teardrops” formed by running glaze were sometimes considered less suitable for imperial use. Nonetheless, Ding ware was one of the Five Famous Kilns of the Song dynasty.

The influence of Ding ware extended to Jingdezhen’s early white wares, known as “Southern Ding,” and subsequently to Qingbai ware. The intricate plant-scroll designs of Ding ware, especially under the Jin dynasty (1115-1234), significantly impacted later Chinese pottery, including the globally influential blue and white pottery of Jingdezhen.

Legacy and Rediscovery

Ding ware continued to be produced under the Jin and Yuan dynasties, although its prominence waned over time. The finest examples of Ding ware, such as those found in the underground pagodas of Jingzhi Temple (circa 977) and Jingzhongyuan Temple (circa 955), provide invaluable insights into the quality and style of early Ding ware production. These archaeological discoveries have enlightened scholars and collectors about the enduring legacy of Ding ware, which remains a subject of admiration and study in the field of Chinese ceramics.

Conclusion

Ding ware, with its refined forms, distinctive glazes, and innovative production techniques, represents a significant chapter in the history of Chinese ceramics. The kilns of Quyang County in Hebei province produced masterpieces that not only served practical purposes but also exemplified the artistic and technological achievements of their time. The legacy of Ding ware continues to influence and inspire, underscoring its place among the most celebrated ceramics in Chinese history.