A visit to Toronto's Gardiner Museum, which specializes in the ceramic arts, has yielded an explication of the production process of Jingdezhen porcelain, illustrated in a series of antique gouaches painted around 1810.
The Chinese and Japanese section of the museum is the smallest, but the exhibits are exquisite. The gouache series is reproduced on 2 walls as an aid to understanding the nearby pieces.
The series consists of 12 illustrations, numbered in order. You can see #1 to #6 in the picture above.
Since many of Lotus & Persimmon's readers are not in Ontario, or even in Canada, I'll reproduce the illustrations one by one. First, however, a few words about Jingdezhen.
Jingdezhen, in southern China, is where blue and white porcelain production got started. As early as 1320, according to the information posted by the Gardiner's curators, the town was mentioned as a production centre of beautiful porcelain. After the establishment of the Ming Dynasty in 1368, the imperial kilns were set up in the town, where they remained until the end of the imperial period.
The Chinese had a monopoly on the production of white porcelain for many centuries because only they had the technology. The West fell in love with porcelain after the sea routes to the Far East were opened by the Portuguese, thus making blue and white porcelain the first truly global trade commodity of the modern era.
The white part of blue and white Chinese porcelain is made of kaolin (a kind of white clay) and petuntse (powdered stone), which must be fired at 1250 degrees Celsius or more to fuse properly. The blue comes from cobalt, which is applied to the surface of the porcelain before it's fired. The process from start to finish is illustrated below.
1. The clay is dug up.
2. A waterwheel is used to break up the clay.
3. The clay is washed.
4. The clay is pounded.
5. The clay is shaped and moulded.
6. The vessels are lined up to dry.
7. The porcelain is decorated.
8. The porcelain vessels are fired in kilns.
9. The finished vessels are wrapped in straw and packed in cases.
10. The porcelain is transported.
11. The vessels are unpacked.
12. The porcelain is put on display in shops.
It would be interesting to see a modern series of the production process for factory-made porcelain. Presumably there are still old-school artisans making porcelain in a way similar to what we see here.
In future posts, I'll show some examples of Jindezhen and other porcelain from the Gardiner Museum.
If you are in Toronto or planning to go there, you can find the Gardiner Museum at 111 Queens Park, across the street from the Royal Ontario Museum. The museum's website is here: