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Blue and white ware during the Qing dynasty

It is difficult to discover the development of blue and white ware during the beginning of the Qing dynasty. This is due to there not being any official kilns at the time and the rule against the inscription of the reign name. However, it is likely that early Qing wares were just little more than extensions of the transitional wares that existed during the Ming dynasty. Official kilns only opened during the middle of the Kangxi period. It took such a long time for the opening of the official kilns because of the disruption during the beginning of the Qing period. There was a lot on instability which affected the development and production of the porcelain ware in the Jingdezhen region. Kilns, before it was official, regained its former pace in the eighth year of the Shunzi reign (the first of the Qing dynasty). It was at this time that their porcelain pieces were worthy enough to be shown to the imperial court as the Jiangxi governor commissioned multiple bowls with dragon motifs to be presented to them. Inscriptions were also prohibited in the beginning of the Qing dynasty, though they were allowed on other types of wares. This may imply that blue and white ware were regarded differently from the rest although the reason is unknown. Instead the blue and white ware displayed inscriptions of symbols on the base. These symbols were derived from the Eight Immortals and included leaves, flowers, fungi and calligraphy scrolls. Some of these symbols were enclosed by double rings. Towards the end of the reign, some pieces had the fake inscription of the Ming dynasty. This stopped once the official kilns were opened. The symbols described above appeared during the time of the opening of the official kilns, when the ware was finally showing its distinctive style. The symbolic marks may represent the workshop in which the vessel was produced since firing was done in cooperative kilns or the different destinations of the wares produced for export.

Differences in kilns

The Qing style of ware differs considerably from the previous styles. The higher improvement in quality allowed more styles to develop, in particular the pictorial ones. The increase in quality is attributed to the difference in kilns. Thought these kilns were larger, they focused on economizing measures to ensure that there was less fuel consumption by shortening the firing and cooling times. The firing process was also altered which resulted in thinner and smoother overglaze coating. This glaze was much more refined than previous ones. As the kilns were now official kilns, high grade ceramic technicians were sent to overview the production of porcelain. One of the two was name Zang Yingxuan. Zang Yingxuan was so highly skilled that many of the Kangxi official ware are referred to as Zang Yao ware in historical records.
Beginning of Qing dynasty

The improvement in quality resulted in less blurring of the motifs, a problem commonly seen in Yongle and Chenghua porcelain. Blurring was caused by the cobalt melting into the overglaze in the kiln. The lack of blurring was not only due to improvement in overglaze as described above, but also the underglaze and the cobalt used. The underglaze was now much smoother and clearer because of the change in ingredients and painting technique used while the cobalt was refined. The thinner overglaze also appeared more colourless, allowing the motifs to be clearly visible and sharply defined. However, the improvement in quality led to older styles appearing stiff and thin under the overglaze. Thus, to make up for the cold sharpness of the new blue underglaze, lyrical designs and historical scenes were created. This style is likely inspired by Shonzui and Tenkei blue and white styles. Most of these designs were copied from paintings in book done in the city of Xin’an during the end of the Ming dynasty. These paintings were done by several people in a carefully defined system of labour division. The work was so specialized that it allowed the craftsmen to concentrate and perfect one specific skill. Blue and white ware experienced its last stage of development during the Kangxi period. After this era, the ware remained stagnant. As all possible variations had been tried, potters began focusing on the famille rose and monochrome ware instead.

Post Kangxi era

Even though there were no signs of development, blue and white ware remained popular. This resulted in potters in official kilns being forced to copy classic styles bearing the Yongzheng and Qianlong reign marks. These copies were much more brilliantly executed than its originals due to advancement in technology. However, they still lacked a certain indefinable quality which allowed them to be easily identified as copies. Copies could have been done due to a record of pottery making techniques inscribed on a stone monument done by Tang Ying. Tang Ying was a superintendent of official kilns from Yongzheng reign to the beginning of the Qianlong era. He made major contributions to the development of pottery making skills, which were far in advance of those used during his time. The stone monument gives explicit instructions on how to copy Chenghua blue and white, a ware noted for its elegance and pale paintings. In addition to variations of blue and white ware, the potters experimented with blue motifs on yellow ground and vice versa. Blue and white ware with landscape, bird and flower motifs in the shading style of the Kangxi reign reappeared in the Qianglong era after disappearing during the Yongzheng reign. The Qianlong version of this ware is distinguished in North America and Europe from ordinary blue and white ware by the term “soft paste” because of the peculiar qualities of the clay and glazes used. The ware is made in very small sizes and specimens are extremely rare.