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Qingbai Porcelain 青白; Song & Yuan Dynasty

Qingbai ware (Chinese: 青白; pinyin: qīngbái; lit. ‘green-white’) is a distinguished type of Chinese porcelain produced primarily during the Song Dynasty and Yuan Dynasty. Defined by its characteristic ceramic glaze, Qingbai ware is renowned for its white body with a delicate blue-green tint. This type of porcelain, also referred to as Yingqing (“shadow green”), holds a significant place in the history of Chinese ceramics for its widespread production and later recognition for its artistic and technical achievements.

Historical Overview

Origins and Development

Qingbai ware first emerged during the Northern Song period (960-1127) in Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province. The earliest pieces are characterized by faint pale-blue glazes on simple forms. As production techniques advanced, the forms diversified to include bowls, dishes, ewers, boxes, incense burners, granary models, vases, jars, sculptures, cups, cupstands, water droppers, lamps, grave wares, and writing tools. By the mid-Northern Song, Qingbai ware had become immensely popular in the Chinese market and was even exported in large quantities to neighboring countries.

Kiln Sites and Production Techniques

Qingbai ware was produced in several locations in Jiangxi province, with Jingdezhen being the most notable center. Over 136 kiln sites around Jingdezhen have been identified as manufacturing Qingbai, with significant sites at Hutian, Liujiawan, Nanshijie, Huangnitou, Yangmeiting, Xianghu, and Zhuxi. Additionally, kilns at other secondary sites, such as Jizhou, also produced Qingbai ware, evidenced by excavations revealing large quantities of discarded fragments.

The kilns used pine wood as fuel, creating a reducing atmosphere that imparted the slight blue-green tint to the glaze. The porcelain body of Qingbai ware is hard, white, and translucent due to its fine-grained porcelain stone containing kaolin. This supported the creation of thin-walled vessels. The smooth, glassy glaze, achieved by using a small amount of iron in a reduction-fired kiln, gave Qingbai its distinctive icy-blue finish. Decorations on Qingbai ware often included incised, combed, and carved floral designs, borrowing motifs from Ding ware and other earlier ceramics.

Influence and Legacy

Qingbai ware was not initially considered prestigious and was often used for burial wares, exports, and the middle-rank Chinese market. Despite this, its quality was appreciated by collectors centuries later. In the 14th century, Qingbai ware paved the way for the production of blue and white porcelain at Jingdezhen, using the same porcelain body. This transition marked the end of Qingbai ware.

Qingbai ware’s influence extended beyond China. It was produced in Japan as seihakuji and became a popular trade commodity in Southeast Asia, Korea, Japan, South Asia, Africa, and the Near East. The first experimentations with underglaze blue on Qingbai ware eventually led to Jingdezhen’s renowned blue and white porcelain.

Characteristics and Artistic Significance

Qingbai ware is distinguished by its bluish-green glaze, often compared to highly prized jade. The porcelain’s aesthetic qualities earned it names like “shadow blue” (Yingqing) and “imitation jade” (Jiayu). The forms of Qingbai ware tend to be simple, reflecting the Song Dynasty’s appreciation for plain, well-designed forms. However, intricate moulded decorations and detailed figurative designs became prevalent during the Southern Song period.

The porcelain’s translucency and fine craftsmanship made Qingbai ware a versatile medium for a variety of objects, from everyday utensils to elaborate burial items. Notable pieces include small Buddha statues with detailed hair and clothing, and tall funerary urns with intricate figures.

A significant piece of Qingbai ware is the Fonthill Vase, the earliest known Chinese ceramic in Europe. Made in the early 14th century, it was gifted to Louis the Great of Hungary and later transformed into a ewer with silver mounts. It is now housed in the National Museum of Ireland.

Conclusion

Qingbai ware represents a remarkable period in Chinese ceramic history, showcasing advancements in porcelain production and artistic expression. The numerous kiln sites, particularly in Jingdezhen, highlight the extensive efforts and skills involved in creating these delicate pieces. While Qingbai may not have held the same prestige as other contemporary wares during its time, its delicate beauty and technical achievements have earned it a revered place among collectors and historians. Its legacy continues to influence and inspire, reflecting the enduring allure of China’s porcelain artistry.