Green: Longquan Celadon of the Ming Dynasty

Tags: celadon | ceramics | Longquan | Ming dynasty

Longquan wares were celadon produced at the hundreds of kilns near Lungquan area in southwestern part of Zhejiang province, China. By the Song dynasty (960-1279), artisans had established the Longquan glaze's signature glossy, greenish color, a tradition which continued through the Yuan (1271-1368) and Ming dynasty (1368-1644).

Connoisseurs have long admired the elegant thin body and ethereal, bluish-green glaze of the Song dynasty Longquan wares, as well as the increase-sized, thick and vigorous Yuan dynasty wares. The exhibition focuses on the Ming dynasty Longquan wares: their use in court, appreciation by the literati, and unique role in tributary and trade relations between the empire and other nations.

Among the Ming Longquan wares, those with glossy, rich, green glaze in yellowish or milky tones garnered the most attention. They usually in the neat shape and fully carved with intricate patterns, which were similar to those of Jingdezhen official wares, clear signs of meticulous and superior workmanship. However the significance of the Ming celadon was little known. Only recently did archaeologists discover the kilns site in Longquan's Dayao area with dated shards of styles unearthed. The discovery verified historical documents recording Longquan kilns once as supplier for and supervised by the early Ming court. After the mid-Ming period, Longquan wares deteriorated in quality; as glazes grew transparent and thin, the carving became coarse. However, the Longquan kilns remained an important site beyond the Jingdezhen, providing wares for display in the residences.

Patronage and Style at the Court
Imperial Ceramics Produced both in Jingdezhen and Longquan

Ceramics for official use in the early Ming dynasty had several origins. In 1393, Taizu, the first emperor of Ming, ordered some court vessels be produced at the Longquan kilns and the Jingdezhen kilns. Later on, a eunuch was still supervising the manufacture of ceramics in the Longquan area in 1464. That is the reason why the shapes and decorative patterns of Longquan celadon are often similar to those of Jingdezhen, as they both followed the same specifications of the court. Those court patterns, covering all the surface of Longquan wares, were carefully stamped, moulded, incised or carved in relief. In contrast to the delicate tableware produced at Jingdezhen, however, the Longquan wares consist of thick, heavy displaying vessels, such as vases, jars, basins, incense burners, and large dishes and bowls.

Pear-shaped vase, Yuhuchun, with incised peony design Longquan ware
Ming Dynasty
National Palace Museum

Covered ewer with incised floral design Longquan ware
Ming Dynasty
National Palace Museum

A Touch of Elegance in the Life
The Indispensible Vases for Flower Arrangement

Late Ming literati often mentioned Longquan celadon in their writings, referencing incense burners, flower pots, stationery, and taborets. They also mentioned large-sized works such as citron dishes and the standing plum vase, emphasizing that "the greater the size the better". The Longquan wares' characteristic size distinguished them from the wares of other kilns. However, the quality of Longquan wares gradually declined during the late Ming. Their glaze became either thin and transparent or dark with crackles. Nevertheless, the Zunsheng Bajian still noted in 1592, "For arranging plum flowers in wintertime, Longquan large vases are a necessity." During the late Ming, the greenish color of celadon was still highly recognized as a staple in the daily life of the literati.


Incense burner in the shape of rooster Longquan glaze
Ming Dynasty
National Palace Museum


Large dish Longquan ware
Late Ming Dynasty
National Palace Museum

The Spread and Impact
Ceramics Preferred to Silk of the Highest Quality
When foreign envoys arrived in the Ming court to pay tribute, they received many goods as forms of reward. This gave rise to the unique phenomenon of using political relationships of tribute and rewards to conduct international trade. Ceramics were among the most coveted items as a reward. Some nations declared that they valued ceramics more than top quality silks. Some nations' envoys even traveled to the Longquan area in order to purchase ceramic wares directly and resell them in other markets. Longquan wares have also been discovered among goods recovered from sunken ships, further demonstrating their popularity during this period. Many nations also started to imitate the ceramic wares of the Longquan kiln, adding local characteristics to ornament their industry's wares.


Floral-rimmed small dish with incised floral
design Jingdezhen ware with Xuande mark

Ming Dynasty
National Palace Museum
Large dish with incised floral design Sisatchanalai ,
National Palace Museum


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