Buy Rare Chinese Porcelain Shards

Jizhou Kilns: An Exploration of Their Unique Ceramics

Jizhou ware, also known as Chi-chou ware (Chinese: 吉州窯; pinyin: Jízhōu yáo), originates from Jiangxi province in southern China. Over five centuries of production, the Jizhou kilns created a variety of ceramics that are renowned for their innovative techniques and exquisite craftsmanship. The Jizhou kilns produced an array of distinctive wares, including white painted wares, hare’s fur wares, tortoiseshell wares, and paper-cut wares. This article explores these unique types of ware and the history of the Jizhou kilns.

Early Beginnings: Late Tang and Five Dynasties Period

Contrary to ancient records that placed the start of Jizhou ceramics production during the Song period, archaeological evidence reveals that the Jizhou kilns began operating in the Late Tang (618-907 AD) and Five Dynasties (907-960 AD) periods. The earliest Jizhou wares included green, dark brownish, and milky white glaze ceramics, which were similar to those produced in other kilns across Jiangxi Province. These early products were primarily daily utensils such as ewers, dishes, and bowls, catering to the local community.

Song Dynasty Flourishing: Innovation and Prestige

During the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD), Yonghe town, where the Jizhou kilns were located, transformed into a prosperous commercial center due to the substantial demand for ceramics. Early Qing scholar Fang Yi Zhi noted this in his writings, and archaeological findings confirm the large-scale production during this period. The Southern Song period marked the golden era for Jizhou kilns, with significant technological advancements and the arrival of potters from northern China, which influenced the local ceramics production techniques.

White Painted Wares

White painted wares from Jizhou are distinguished by their elegant and delicate decoration. These ceramics typically feature a dark brown or black glaze over which white slip is painted in intricate patterns, often depicting flora, fauna, or geometric designs. The contrast between the dark background and the white decoration creates a striking visual effect. This technique borrowed elements from Cizhou ware, a popular ceramic style produced at many sites in northern China.

Hare’s Fur Wares

Hare’s fur wares are known for their unique glaze that resembles the fur of a hare. This effect is achieved through the use of iron oxide in the glaze, which, when fired at high temperatures, produces streaks and patterns that mimic the appearance of animal fur. The glaze is typically a deep brown or black, with lighter streaks running down the surface of the vessel. These wares are highly prized for their naturalistic and dynamic glaze patterns, demonstrating the potters’ mastery of kiln temperatures and glaze chemistry.

Note! Both Jian and Jizhou kilns produced hare’s fur glaze, but Jian kilns are particularly famous for this type of ware, which features streaks of iron oxide that create patterns resembling animal fur. The glaze is typically dark brown or black with lighter streaks.

Tortoiseshell Wares

Tortoiseshell wares from Jizhou feature a mottled glaze pattern that resembles the shell of a tortoise, with rich browns and blacks blending together to create a complex and visually appealing surface. This effect is often achieved by layering different glazes and allowing them to interact during the firing process. The result is a highly distinctive and attractive finish that highlights the natural beauty of the glaze materials.

Paper-Cut Wares

Paper-cut wares are among the most unique and inventive ceramics produced at Jizhou kilns. These wares feature designs created using actual paper-cut templates. The templates are applied to the vessel before glazing and then removed after the first firing, leaving a negative space in the shape of the design. The vessel is then glazed and fired again, resulting in intricate patterns embedded in the glaze. This technique allowed for highly detailed and delicate designs, often featuring floral or geometric motifs, demonstrating the potters’ creativity and technical prowess.

Leaf Decoration and Cizhou Influences

Another iconic Jizhou ware features naturalistic leaf decorations. The leaf was placed on the vessel before glazing, leaving a detailed imprint once the leaf burned away during firing. Additionally, Jizhou kilns produced a distinctive form of Cizhou-type ware with under-glaze iron brown painted decoration. Unlike traditional Cizhou wares, Jizhou’s version did not have a layer of white slip on the biscuit body, showcasing a different approach to this popular style.

Historical Context and Legacy

The Jizhou kilns operated during a time of great artistic and cultural development in China. The kilns were situated in an area with rich natural resources, including high-quality clay and abundant fuel, facilitating the production of high-quality ceramics. Jizhou ware achieved high prestige during the Song Dynasty, particularly among Buddhist monks and in relation to tea-drinking ceremonies.

In the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368 AD), Jizhou also produced brown and white slip-painted wares, which borrowed techniques from Cizhou ware. These wares were significant in influencing the start of blue and white pottery in Jingdezhen ware, from relatively nearby.

The legacy of Jizhou kilns lies in their innovative techniques and the beauty of their wares. The ceramics produced at these kilns were highly valued both domestically and internationally, influencing ceramic traditions in other regions and countries. Today, Jizhou wares are considered important cultural artifacts, and their study provides valuable insights into the technological and artistic achievements of the Song and Yuan dynasties.

In conclusion, the Jizhou kilns produced a diverse array of ceramics that reflect the ingenuity and craftsmanship of their potters. From the delicate white painted wares to the striking hare’s fur and tortoiseshell glazes, each type of ware showcases a unique aspect of Jizhou’s ceramic tradition. The historical significance and enduring beauty of these wares continue to captivate and inspire, making them a treasured part of China’s rich cultural heritage.