The introduction of pottery ware signified man’s subjugation of water, fire and earth. It was only possible when a certain level of technology has been attained and there was the power to transform the natural material environment. The process from emergence to application of pottery marked important milestones in the course of the refinement of living for humankind; incessantly man’s capacity to create applications using technology and wisdom. Ultimately, artistic objects with both functionality and aesthetic value were created.
The history of ceramic manufacturing is very long, starting seven or eight thousand years ago in the Neolithic Age by our ancestors who started the craft of making and using pottery. Porcelain is a significant invention from ancient China. People made primitive porcelain early in the Shang Dynasty, and real porcelain was first made in the Eastern Han Dynasty. Porcelain manufacturing in China gradually developed from the Wei, Jin and North and South Dynasties to the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Ceramic is one of the three greatest specialties from the Western Han Dynasty that has become internationally known. The town of Jingdezhen in Jiangxi Province is China’s "Porcelain Capital" in China.
Pottery is made by cooking clay. After humans learned how to start a fire and use it to cook, they tried many different methods to cook hunted animals and vegetation, and then store the remaining food and water. After a long period of attempts, humans finally learned to make pottery by cooking clay mixed with water.
Pottery is the process of cooking, forming, and drying clay or a mixture of clay, feldspar and quartz. Ceramics represent the artistic features of the cooking and forming techniques, as well as the color of the glaze and its decorative features.
Pottery is the oldest handicraft in China. As early as the Neolithic Age, roughly styled and artless grey, red, white, colored, and black pottery existed. Glazed and hard glazed pottery with primitive porcelain characteristics first appeared during the Shang Dynasty. Porcelain was first made in the Eastern Han Dynasty, and the production techniques became highly advanced level during the Tang Dynasty. The development of porcelain manufacturing blossomed during the Song Dynasty with many famous kilns. From body blank, decorating, and glazing to firing, techniques from the Qing Dynasty exceeded those of the previous periods.
Classic Work of Painted Pottery
Most painted pottery in China was made some 3000 to 5000 years ago in the Yellow River Valley in Southwest Qinghai, Gansu and Shaanxi provinces and northern Henan Province. The classic one is Human Face and Fish Body Design Colored Pottery Basin, which was made in the Neolithic age (5000 to 10000 years ago) and unearthed in the 1950s in Banpo Village in Xi'an of Shaanxi Province.
Primitive Chinese artists dipped their painting brushes into black, white and red colors to make drawings on red pottery utensils such as basins, jars and plates. The designs on painted pottery come in two types: abstract patterns and realistically drawn figures of animals, insects and humans.
There are a dozen patterns on Chinese painted pottery. The most common types are rippling, rotary, circular, saw-tooth and net-mesh designs. The lines are smooth and neat, symmetrical and balanced, and adhere to certain rules. In the painted pottery unearthed in Majiayao in Gansu Province, there are many rippling and rotary designs drawn with smooth and balanced strokes to engender a quiet and gentle mood. These designs shed precious light on life in primitive Chinese society, with men fishing and hunting, and women doing housework and collecting vegetables and fruits. It was a society free from class exploitation and slavery, and its painted designs, too, had a peaceful and harmonious beauty.
In the Banshan and Machang painted pottery, which were a little later than the Majiayao, the designs changed. More saw tooth, circling and frog-shaped strokes appeared, which look wild, bold and enigmatic. Chinese primitive society was breaking up during that period and social reforms were being carried out. The resultant turbulence and unrest were reflected in art designs. It is not simply a fanciful notion to read such meaning into the painted pottery designs as all paintings and drawing designs in later, and better-documented Chinese dynasties reflect the social moods and trends of their respective eras.
The realistic pottery designs look more attractive. The animal designs drawn on painted pottery unearthed in Banpo Village in Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, have simple but descriptive patterns, such as swimming fish, running deer and barking dogs. These designs demonstrate that ancient Chinese artists were good at depicting the movement of animals. On a painted pottery basin unearthed in Datong County, Qinghai Province, there is the design of five dancing people standing in a line, hand in hand. This design can be seen both as an ancient picture and ornamentation.
The primitive artists of Banpo Village began using pictorial designs for decorative purposes and express abstract thoughts. For example, they divided the design of a fish into head, body and fins, alternating straight lines with curves, triangles and circles. This innovation was a significant step in the development of Chinese painting. On a painted pottery basin from Banpo Village, for instance, we see the design of a human face with a fish's body. According to archeologists, these patterns may have been used for decorating the utensils; but they may also have been used for sacrificial rites in the spring season to pray for a good harvest. If that were true, the Banpo pottery designs might be the earliest religious artwork in art history.
In the last step of pottery making, water is usually added slowly from the top of the kiln in order to produce thick smoke while extinguishing the charcoal. When this is done, the black pottery comes out. Following the color-glazed pottery, this was another peak of pottery making in Chinese Neolithic Age (about 10000 to 5000 years ago). It is another great invention of the same aesthetic value with that of the color-glazed pottery in Chinese pottery making craft.
This eggshell-like black pottery goblet, unearthed in Shandong Longshan Cultural Relic of the later Neolithic Age in Rizhao County of Shandong Province in northern China, is the best work of Chinese ancient pottery.
This kind of goblet only appeared in the early and mid periods of the Longshan Culture in Shandong Province. Perhaps it was the special local material and pottery making techniques that made the goblet so unique. The making of such pottery is of high difficulty even today, and it represents the great achievements of pottery making craft in ancient China.
White pottery is a kind of pottery who’s outside and inside is all white. The green ware is mostly made by hand. In the late Shang Dynasty (13thcentury - 11thcentury BC), the emergence and application of white pottery with carved patterns marked the new achievement in the history of Chinese pottery. The hardness, fire resistance and water-absorbing capacity saw much improvement, so we consider the white pottery the indication of the leap from pottery to china.
A white pottery vase with geometrical patterns of the Shang Dynasty was excavated from the Yin Ruins in Anyang of Henan Province, and it is the representative of white pottery with carved patterns in the Shang Dynasty.
Due to the hardness, lustration, and fine craftsmanship, white potteries became the objects used exclusively by slaveholders. In the later period of the Shang Dynasty, white potteries tended to be more and more fussy and refined, so the top-notch white potteries were mostly from this period. After the Western Zhou Dynasty (11thcentury - 771BC), white pottery was in decline due to the emergence of hard pottery with printed patterns and primitive china.
Tang Tricolor Glazed Pottery
Tang tricolor pottery is pottery painted with three colors of glaze, such as yellow, green and white or yellow, green and blue.
The making of Tang tricolor pottery is complex yet inconsequential. First, the base is placed into the kiln and heated to around 1100 centigrade. It is then removed, colored and heated again to around 900 centigrade. The major ingredient of tricolor glaze is aluminum silicate, and the color generation toner consists of various metallic oxides, such as ferrous or antimony in light yellow, ferrous in ocher yellow, bronze in green, copper, cobalt in blue and manganese in purple.
Tang tricolor pottery is the artistic essence of the Tang Dynasty, and absorbed the merits of art such as Chinese paintings, stone carvings, sculptures, and others. The pottery adopts ornamental patterns created by printing, laying and carving. It is characterized by boldness, details and softness in its form, simplicity in its carving style and smoothness in its lines. With a unique artistic style and distinct ethnic features, it fully demonstrates the social appearance and high artistic standards of the glorious Tang Dynasty. Tang tricolor pottery has great varieties, the most popular being the pottery figure and the household item.
Tri-colored glazed pottery was exported to foreign countries in the early Tang, winning great favor. It was always been famed for its bright colors and pleasing shapes. Tri-colored glazed pottery of the Tang Dynasty is a shining pearl among ancient Chinese pottery.
As the tri-colored glazed pottery continued to improve through the centuries, now it has been developed even further and its varieties number several hundred. The once tri-color glaze has expanded to include yellow, purple, black and blue and its artistic quality has also soared.