Glazed and Fired:
Celadon Ceramics from the UMAG Collection
Curated by Kenneth Shing-Kwan Chan
Edited by Dr Florian Knothe, Christopher Mattison and Kuldip Kaur Singh
Pre-dating the Neolithic period, ceramic wares are some of the earliest man-made objects to integrate science, technology and the arts. A close examination of ceramics can reveal the creative advances of individuals in various cultures and time periods, and reflect a society’s broader development and technical progress.
With a long history of innovation and craftsmanship, celadon wares have provided a crucial reference point for the study of ceramic production in China. The term ‘celadon’ historically refers to specific types of ceramics coated with a green-coloured glaze. Taking its name from a French literary character best known for his distinctive green attire, some scholars prefer to avoid this arbitrary Western construction and instead apply the term ‘greenware’.
Constant advances in raw material selection, firing techniques and the shaping of forms have enabled celadon ceramics to develop continuously over the past two millennia. The UMAG collection of celadon spans a period of more than fifteen hundred years of celadon’s history, from the early lead-glazed pottery of the Han (漢朝; 202 BCE–220 CE) to the stunning Guan wares of the Song dynasty (宋朝; 960–1279 CE), providing a rich overview of the traditions and transitions of these widely-coveted objects.
I. Han-dynasty Green-glazed Ceramics
Vase, Eastern Han dynasty (25–220 CE), Earthenware with green glaze. HKU.C.1953.0069
瓶，東漢 (25–220 CE) ，綠釉陶器．HKU.C.1953.0069
3D Model of the Han-dynasty Vase (HKU.C.1953.0069)
Creator: Tullia Fraser
Created in the Eastern Han dynasty (東漢; 25–220 CE), one of this small vase’s (HKU.C.1953.0069) most significant characteristics is its lead-based, dark olive-toned glaze. Originally developed to replicate the colour and texture of bronze, some of the earliest examples of lead-glazed pottery (鉛釉器) imitating bronze are known from the end of the Warring States period (戰國時代; 475–221 BCE). Occasionally found in Western Han (西漢; 202 BCE–9 CE) tombs, the technique became increasingly popular in the later Eastern Han period (Vainker, 1991). As lead is highly toxic, the majority of excavated lead-glazed wares were created as mingqi (明器 grave goods), rather than as objects for everyday use. Lead glazes were also used in the Roman Empire around this time, though it is unknown whether there is any connection between these two traditions.
Lead-green is a low-temperature glaze that uses lead as a fluxing agent. Due to variations in local raw materials and glaze recipes, low-temperature lead-glazed pottery was created primarily in the northern section of China during the Han dynasty, whereas potters in Southern China mainly produced high-temperature calcium-glazed pottery (Wang et al., 2019). Exemplified by the brownish mottling on the vase’s surface, tints and impurities often appear in lead glazes as a result of a number of uncontrollable factors. The vase’s interior and base are left unglazed, a characteristic shared by many Han-dynasty ceramic wares. According to Trubner and Falk (1961), the consistent distribution of glazes on Han dynasty vessels was the result of potters applying the glaze materials from above, which resulted in the coverage of only the upper side and rim with glaze.
鉛綠釉是一種使用鉛作為助熔劑的低溫釉料。在漢代，各地原材料和釉料配方的差異，引致中國北部主要製作低溫鉛釉陶器，而南方地區則以生產高溫鈣釉陶器為主的情況（Wang et al.，2019）。由於各種不可控制的因素，漢代鉛釉經常出現色斑和雜質，就如這件小瓶釉料表面上的褐色斑點。此小瓶的內部和底部均未上釉，而這是許多漢代陶器的共有特徵。Trubner 和Falk（1961）指出，由於漢代陶工一般會從上方施以釉料，使釉料僅能覆蓋容器的上側和邊緣，令漢代陶器的釉料有著相若的分佈。
Model of Dog, Han dynasty (202 BCE –220 CE), Earthenware with green glaze. Gift of Songyin Ge Collection, HKU.C.2020.2475
綠釉瓷狗，漢 (202 BCE –220 CE) ，綠釉陶器．松隱閣惠贈，HKU.C.2020.2475
With its upward-facing head, floppy ears, unflinching gaze and mouth open mid-bark, this glazed pottery figure (HKU.C.2020.2475) depicts a rather solid and spirited looking canine. The ceramic dog is covered with a finely crackled green glaze, while the underside has been left unglazed, revealing its reddish-brown clay body. Likely a highly desirable item at the time, the studded, elaborately designed collar suggests the animal had an affluent owner. The majority of Han dynasty ceramic dogs unearthed at sites across China were made in a static pose, with a small number shown walking or barking. For a similar green-glazed dog dating to the Eastern Han, see R. Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, 1994, vol. I, p. 75.
In the Han dynasty, dogs were popularly used for hunting and as guards, and ceramic dogs served as guardians in the afterlife (Rotondo-McCord, 2005). It was common to bury figures of dogs, as people believed they would accompany the deceased. Earlier in the Shang period, it had been common to bury dogs alive in tombs—a practice which continued until at least the Western Zhou (Mair, 1988). The remains of two hunting dogs were discovered in the late fourth-century tomb of the fifth ruler of the state of Zhongshan during the Warring States period. By the time of the Han dynasty, live dogs had been replaced by glazed ceramic models.
Watchtower, Han dynasty (202 BCE –220 CE), Earthenware with green glaze, Gift of Dr T. T. Tsui, Tsui Art Foundation Ltd. HKU.C.1996.1088.
瞭望台，漢 (202 BCE –220 CE) ，綠釉陶器．徐氏藝術基金公司徐展堂博士惠贈，HKU.C.1996.1088
Ceramic models of architectural structures were commonly included in Eastern Han tombs as a way to provide for the souls of the deceased. Green-glazed watchtowers (HKU.C.1996.1088) are among the largest ceramic objects to be excavated from Han dynasty tombs. Made of reddish-brown clay and covered with an uneven layer of lead-green glaze, this watchtower consists of four sections. Offering a rare glimpse into the building styles of the Han dynasty, the models include meticulous details, from the roof tile ends and corner ornaments to the miniature human figures standing at the windows.
Well, Han dynasty (202 BCE –220 CE), Earthenware with green glaze, Gift of Ms Li Lai–wa, HKU.C.1997.1107
陶井，漢 (202 BCE –220 CE) ，綠釉陶器．李麗華女士惠贈 ，HKU.C.1997.1107
In addition to architectural structures, models of real-life objects, including pottery wells, mills, houses and pig sties were also regularly buried in tombs to provide for the deceased, who were believed to require provisions in the afterlife. Typically modelled with figurines of peasants and animals set within a granary, this well (HKU.C.1997.1107) and grain mill (HKU.C.2019.2490) models from the UMAG collection were likely produced as stand-alone grave goods. Ultimately, these burial objects worked in concert with other funerary goods to ensure the wellbeing of the dead in the afterlife. It is worth noting that the studded, circular ceramic disk of the grain mill model is unglazed, revealing the colour and texture of the clay body. It is unknown if the disk was never glazed, or if it delaminated over the centuries of burial.
Grain Mill Model, Han dynasty (202 BCE –220 CE), Earthenware with green glaze. Gift of Claire and Francis Heritage Lane, HKU.C.2019.2490
石磨模型，漢 (202 BCE –220 CE) ，綠釉陶器．鴻踪里惠贈. HKU.C.2019.2490
II. Yue Celadons from the Han to Tang Dynasties