A visit to Jingdezhen with Bo Gyllensvärd
4-24 September 1992

An invitation and journey to study the recent findings from the excavations of the Imperial Ming Kilns
at Zhushan, and other aspects of the ceramic history of China in and around the city of Jingdezhen.
Text and photo © Jan-Erik Nilsson 1992

Sunday 13 September 1992
Back to the Longzhu (dragon's pearl) pavilion on Zhushan

Went back to the Longzhu (dragon's pearl) pavilion on Zhushan where many of the reconstructed objects apparently were stored. It felt unlikely that all of these rare excavated objects would be stored there, but as far as I could see all pieces that we are shown are brought out from a variety of cabinets in and around where we sit. During this visit I was welcome to take photographs. That was good since only the camera equipment I somewhat optimistically had brought this time around to Jingdezhen easily weighed more than the free hand luggage allowance on the flights.

I had probably got it through the airline check-in's thanks to some uncertainty regarding what constitutes a 'camera', since my heavy black aluminum box was neatly labeled Hasselblad and a number '2' subtly hinting that there is probably a number '1' around somewhere too and that we are getting off lightly here if we only need to deal with one of them.

Bo Gyllensvard

Professor Bo Gyllensvärd, Studying Imperial Kiln excavated porcelain, September 1992

We were seated in a beautiful, brightly lit salon on the south side of the pavilion. A row of louvered doors was opened and we suddenly had a fascinating view over the old imperial porcelain factory area. We felt very privileged.

Perfectly calmly I could photograph object after object from the Yongle (1403-25) and Xuande (1426-35) periods at the rate they were brought out for us to see.

Yongle (1403-25)

Pear shaped vase. Underglaze blue and white decoration of one large and four small five-clawed dragons. Thin walls. Ring foot and base fully glazed. Late Yongle period, unearthed from late Yongle stratum in 1984. Height 26.9 cm. No mark. By the end of the Yongle period it appears as if underglaze blue and white pieces are made for the personal use of the Emperor and not only for gifts or export.

Xuande (1426-35)

Some observations: One characteristic was that all surfaces were very much worked. A smooth bottom surface inside of the foot ring of a common large dish from Xuande gave the impression of having been processed endlessly with a small spatula to become smooth. The large dishes bottom rings was not cut but just decently rounded. On the ground outside the pavilion, I found a sample of material that exactly matched a dish bottom from Xuande with a small trace of blue on it.

Xuande foot rim

Fig. 14. Profile of fairly rounded, not cut, foot rim from Xuande (1426-35)

Monks cap jug

Monk's cap jug. Four character Xuande mark on the base, and of the period. Underglaze blue and white decoration of double horned five clawed dragons and Tibetan characters. At 23.4 cm this jug is 4 cm higher than the white incised decorated early Yongle jugs from stratum five in Zhushan road.

Da Ming Xuande Bowl

Basin with a Longquan-type celadon glaze. Diameter of mouth 27.8 cm. Low foot and gritty base that has turned brownish red in places.
Six character Xuande mark written horizontally under the outward curled rim.

Da Ming Xuande Bowl mark

Six character Xuande mark

A few observations:

  1. The small pitcher have a nienhao on the spout.
  2. Aubergine enamel is during this period obtained by combining iron red and copper green, they said.
  3. Xuande-objects are heavy. Especially the # 85 in Liu's book.
  4. What is often called dice bowls are in fact a mortar.
  5. Blue dish with white reserve decoration of dragons. Failed to determine how the reserve had been made. On the dishes we studied blue seemed to have been scraped away where the surface were to become white. The surfaces that were to become white might have been raised, and then the object glazed in blue, to be scraped down to the surface level. Maybe just a piece of wet rice paper could have been applied to the surface. Anyway, the material did not leave any clue towards which process would have been used.
Chenghua reserved decoration

Fig 13. I carefully studied the large dish with white reserved decoration on a blue background from the Chenghua period (1465-87).
There were no tool marks left at all that cold give a clue on how the reserves had been created. The blue were perfectly even and so was the white body. One could guess that a wet paper could have been applied to the surface that were to be kept white, or maybe the decoration that was supposed to come out white could have been made raised and then removed? Maybe several different techniques were used on the same subject.

Text and photos on this web page are copyright as published © Jan-Erik Nilsson, Gotheborg.com, Sweden 2014