White Gold

Chinese ceramics over the centuries in the Macau Museum

Double-Vessels (Neolithic Age, Yangshao Culture)Macau Museum

The history of Chinese ceramics dates back to the Neolithic period around the third millennium B.C.. The manufacture of kitchen utensils, food storage containers, wine goblets and ritual vases led the medium to evolve rapidly.

During this period organic substances, such as crushed shells, herbs and seed shells were added to the raw material (clay) in order to give it a greater consistency.

Steamcup (Neolithic Age, Longshan Culture)Macau Museum

The invention of the potter’s wheel, in the second millennium B.C., led to a significant improvement in the production of ceramics. The Chinese claim to have invented the potter’s wheel.

Dancer (Han dynasty)Macau Museum

The cult of the dead led to the production of a variety of objects. They include servants and dignitaries, animals and domestic utensils as well as imaginary figurines. These reproductions would assure the continuation of the deceased’s quality of life, social status and earthly comforts in the afterlife.

Lokapala (Tomb Guardian) (Tang dynasty)Macau Museum

During the Tang Dynasty (618-906) ceramics attained a place of prominence in daily life as decorative objects. They acquired daring shapes and colours in white, blue, yellow or brown. Decorative elements using more than two colours in one piece became known as sancai ware.

Bactrian Camel (Tang dynasty)Macau Museum

During the Tang Dynasty (618-907) ceramic statues of camels were common. These were symbols of the Silk Route and the important cultural and economic overland exchange happening between the East and West at the time.
The camel with two-humps was introduced in China by Tibetans and Turks from the Xiongnu region who would send them to Chang (capital of China under the Tang dynasty) as a tribute. Camels were used as pack animals to cross the Gobi desert and the Tarim Basin and also as the beast of burden of the Silk Route, linking Chang to the West.

Dish (Southern Song dynasty)Macau Museum

During the Song Dynasty (960-1279) Chinese society witnessed sudden technological progress in the fields of agriculture, metallurgy and in the manufacture of silk and ceramics.
The improvement in the standard of living and subsequently in the arts was reflected in the production of ceramics. Stoneware objects became more refined and whiter, reaching a peak of perfection. Glaze and colour attained a high level of quality. Céladon green became famous for its thickness, shine, tonality, texture and craquelure.

Dish (Ming dynasty)Macau Museum

Chinese porcelain was first produced in the Tang Dynasty (618-906) having as its most important centre Hopeh in Hsing Chou. Chinese porcelain evolved rapidly during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), due to the discovery of Kaolin. It reached the height of perfection in the mid-fourteenth century.

Jar (Ming Dynasty, Wanli period)Macau Museum

From the fourteenth to the seventeenth century blue and white porcelain constituted the bulk of Chinese porcelain production.

Bottle (Ming dynasty, reign of Wanli)Macau Museum

The golden age of the blue and white porcelain occurred during the reign of Emperor Xuande (1426-1435). Bowls, vases, dishes, pilgrim flasks, meiping, aquariums and bottles all vividly decorated with fishes, birds, trees, aquatic plants and landscapes were produced.
Its main centre of production was Jingdezhen.

Plate (Qing dynasty, reign of Qianlong)Macau Museum

During the reign of the Jiajing Emperor (1522-1566) Chinese porcelain was regularly exported to Europe.
The oldest armorial ceramics date back to this period. These were part of the first blue and white export porcelain commissioned by the Poruguese.

Dish (Ming dynasty, reign of Wanli)Macau Museum

During the reign of Wanli (1573-1620) blue and white export porcelain declined in quality, with its characteristic prominent blue being replaced by a kraakporselein. Kraak porcelain is believed to be named after the Portuguese ships (Carracks) that would transport the porcelain to the West.
Kraak porcelain was imitated as faience in Portugal, Holland, England, Germany and Persia as the secret of porcelain production remained unknown to them at the time.

Bowl (Qing dynasty, reign of Qianlong)Macau Museum

The Portuguese maintained the monopoly over the China export porcelain trade until the 17th century, when the Dutch began to control the Seas of the East.
Porcelain then began to be exported in great quantities in naus making it an accessible commodity to the European middle classes. As demand grew the use of moulds to cast porcelain-ware also grew. This led to a decline in the decorative quality.

Plate (Qing dynasty, reign of Qianlong)Macau Museum

It was only around this period, towards the end of the 17th Century, that regular armorial porcelain began to be produced, displaying the design and decoration that appealed to the European market.
Artisans would paint coats of arms in minute detail. However, due to lack of information or misunderstanding mistakes often occurred.

Plate (Qing dynasty, reign of Qianlong)Macau Museum

In the 18th Century along with the heraldic decoration, decorative pieces with motifs of a religious character began to appear.
They were made to order for the European, Islamic (India and the Near East) and Chinese markets.
The Oriental religions, Buddhism and Taoism, were the first to realize the advantages of porcelain as an effective means of religious expansion that was easily accessible to all social classes. Several illustrations such as a boy with magical and religious powers and divinities of Buddhist and Taoist pantheons can be found on porcelain from this period.

Teapot (Qing dynasty, reign of Qianlong)Macau Museum

As the consumption of tea, coffee and chocolate by the Europeans increased during the 17th and 18th centuries, so did the need for porcelain. Since porcelain maintains the temperature of liquids better than faience or silver it became the preferred material for teaware. The best examples of this ware can be found in the dressing table ornaments, dinner, tea and coffee sets of the royal houses of Europe.
When production reached its peak (1730-1780) sets comprising hundreds of pieces appeared throughout Europe. England was the biggest importer of these sets followed by France and Portugal.

Plate “Crucification of Christ” (Qing dynasty, reign of Qianlong)Macau Museum

Christian motifs were based on European illustrations that had begun to circulate in the Far East since the 16th Century began to circulate in the Far East. The “Crucifixion” based on an illustration by Hieronimus Wierx was probably the biblical scene most represented in porcelain destined for European markets.

Large Vase (Qing dynasty, reign of Guangxu, c. 1880)Macau Museum

By the end of the 18th century due to a series of European political crises, the trade of porcelain had declined considerably, leaving only a small scale trade with the United States, England and Portugal.

Credits: Story

Text: Macau Museum
Photography: Paulo Alexandrino
Digital production: Luis Ramos Pinto
Translation to Chinese: Shiqing Song & Roger Greatrex

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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