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Longquan Celadon History 龙泉青瓷

Longquan celadon, known as 龙泉青瓷 (lung-tsh’wahn), is a type of greenish or grayish blue ceramic renowned for its enchanting glaze and exquisite craftsmanship. Collectors have admired it for thousands of years. The Longquan kiln, located in Longquan City, Zhejiang Province, is one of the six famous kiln clusters of the Song Dynasty (960-1279). The saying, “half of the history of Chinese porcelain is about the porcelain wares produced in Zhejiang Province, and half of the history of Zhejiang porcelain is about the celadon wares produced in Longquan City,” underscores the importance of this kiln in the history of Chinese ceramics.

Historical Background

Longquan celadon first appeared during the Three Kingdoms (220-280) and Jin Dynasty (265-420) periods, achieving its zenith in the middle and later period of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279). Its craftsmanship embodies the pinnacle of traditional Chinese porcelain making, with elegant styles and glazing colors making it a paradigm of Song ceramic wares.

Characteristics

The most striking feature of Longquan celadon is its greenish or grayish blue glaze, which resembles the quality of jade. The body of Longquan celadon is rough and heavy, with a relatively thick wall. The glaze is relatively thin, in a range of colors such as plum green, pink blue, pea green, and crab-shell blue. Generations of Longquan celadon makers spared no effort to perfect the glaze, aiming to achieve a jade-like quality.

Longquan celadon typically features multiple layers of glaze, meaning the ware body is re-glazed at least ten times to create a thick, lustrous, and gentle effect. The potters sometimes made relief ridges on the body, resulting in thinner glaze on these ridges and forming blue-vein-like lines as decoration. The bottom of Longquan celadon appears reddish brown due to secondary oxidation during firing.

Despite its multiple layers of glaze, Longquan celadon remains clear and luminous, similar to the surface of a lake. The glaze materials containing iron, the local special clay used for the body, and the specific firewood used for firing all contribute to its unique charm.

Decorative Elements

Longquan celadon features a variety of wares, including bowls, plates, basins, saucers, cups, pots, tins, tea sets, watering cans, brush pots, and vases. Most celadon wares have a heavy and compact body with incised decorations of various patterns. Potters also created crazing patterns, adding brilliance to the ware’s appearance. The jade-like glazing color and exquisite decorations of Longquan celadon make it a celebrated type of porcelain in Chinese history.

Kiln Sites and Production Areas

The Longquan celadon production area, primarily located in Lishui prefecture in southwestern Zhejiang Province and extending into northern Fujian Province, is one of the largest historical ceramic-producing regions in China. Over 500 kilns have been discovered, making it a significant hub for ceramic production. Notable kiln sites within this region include:

  • Dayao Kiln: Located in Dayao Town, this kiln produced high-quality celadon wares, including those for the imperial court.
  • Jincun Kiln: Situated in Jincun Village, this site produced some of the finest examples of Longquan celadon, characterized by its elegant forms and exquisite glaze.
  • Zhuji Kiln: Found in Zhuji County, this kiln is known for its distinct glaze colors and innovative firing techniques.
  • Xikou Kiln: Located in Xikou Town, this kiln site is recognized for its diverse range of celadon wares, including both everyday items and high-quality pieces.

The term “Longquan-type” celadon is increasingly used to recognize the diversity of production within this area. Alternatively, “southern celadon” distinguishes it from northern celadon wares, such as Yaozhou ware, which, though similar, have significant differences and saw their production peak earlier.

Cultural Significance

The jade-like glaze of Longquan celadon symbolizes virtues cherished by the Chinese people. In ancient China, jade was often a metaphor for good virtues, and the glaze’s color, with its low-profile and jade-like gloss, reflects the introverted nature of most Chinese people. The craftsmanship of Longquan celadon has been passed down through generations, continuing to captivate porcelain lovers worldwide.

International Influence

The popularity of Longquan celadon extends beyond China. The name “celadon” originates from the French novel “L’Astrée” by Honoré d’Urfé, where the hero Celadon wore a beautiful blue cloak. The similarity in color between Celadon’s cloak and the Longquan porcelain led to the adoption of the term in Europe. The increasing demand for Longquan celadon resulted in the establishment of kilns in Jiangxi and Fujian provinces, forming a large Longquan kiln cluster.

Conclusion

Longquan celadon, with its jade-like beauty and delicate craftsmanship, enriches the treasury of global arts. It is often seen in famous museums around the world, allowing people outside China to appreciate the exquisite artwork of ancient Chinese civilization. As representative works of Chinese porcelain, Longquan celadon wares continue to be celebrated for their elegance, craftsmanship, and cultural significance.