Thursday, August 24, 2017

The 2017 Chinese Porcelain Exhibition of the Tea Institute at Penn State. Day 4 (celadon)

On a beautiful Sunday in Pennsylvania, we learned more about Qing, celadon ware from China. Celadon was a major progress from earthenware on the way to porcelain. Proto-porcelain actually appeared very early, during the Shang dynasty (1600-1046 BC) at roughly the same time as proto-celadon. But it's celadon ware that matured first, before porcelain. Celadon is made with high firing temperatures and refined stoneware clay. And the glazes of celadon ware have a broad range of colors: from yellow to olive green and to reddish brown. Later, during the Song dynasty, there would even be shades of blue. That's why it's better to use the broad term celadon (qingci) rather than green ware.
Yaozhou ware fish tea bowl, Northern Song (British Museum)
Celadon is a very natural hue, which we find on jade and on leaves. It's also the most relaxing color to look at for the eyes, scientists have found. Celadon was therefore hugely popular in Chinese culture. It's mentioned in many Tang poems. Kilns from different regions tried to surpass each other. During Tang dynasty (618-917), the most famous was the Misi ci, secret ware. This secret ware actually came from the Yue kilns, praised by Lu Yu as making the best bowls for tea.
 Ru celadon bowl stand, Northern Sung dynasty (British museum)
But the most highly regarded celadons ever produced during China's history came from the Ru kilns during the northern Song dynasty (960-1126). There bluish green color is simply exquisite. Shards show that the glossy glaze is often thicker than the body! Agate dust was used to make this special glaze and these Ru celadon wares were reserved for imperial use.
Small celadon tea cups (Tea Institute)
The color of the celadon glaze varies a lot with the firing. That's why it can be sometimes misleading to guess the origin of a celadon ware simply by its color. There's another element that gives a more stable indication: the clay. And the best place to see the clay is at the foot of the ware, because there's always a part that isn't covered with glaze. Historically, most celadon kilns in China were located in the south while white ware came mostly from the north.
Celadon tea cup (Tea Institute)
Celadon bowls and ware are well suited to drink green teas or lightly oxidized Oolong or young raw puerh. The celadon hue adds a natural freshness and transparency to the color of the brew.
This last day was concluded with a gift of a Yuan dynasty qinghua cup with stand reproduction by Teaparker's association, Cha Ren Ya Xin, to the Tea Institute.
Thank you for inviting us to Penn State this year again. We're looking forward to the next successful tea event! Click here for Day 3, Day 2 and Day 1 of the Porcelain Exhibition.

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