Seminar Archive

Current Seminar

2017 Seminar

April 10, 9:30AM – 3:00PM

The Magic of Fire:  A Chinese Potter’s Palette

Robert D. Mowry, Alan J. Dworsky Curator of Chinese Art Emeritus, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

The seminar will consist of three separate lectures.  Coffee break and a gourmet boxed lunch are included.

Only three traditional coloring agents, all metallic compounds, can withstand the high temperatures of porcelain firing and yet mature to a beautiful color: compounds of iron, cobalt, and copper. This series of three lectures will illustrate the rewards and challenges of each of these coloring agents. The lectures will focus on Chinese ceramics, though the coloring agents yield the same colors and offer the same rewards and challenges whether used in China, Korea, Japan, Europe, America, or anywhere else. In each case, the lectures will discuss the first use of the coloring agent and then demonstrate the potters’ development and mastery of the medium.

Lecture One
From Celadon to Black and Brown: Iron Oxide as Glaze Colorant and as Pigment for Underglaze Painting

Covered, Blue-Glazed, Ovoid Jar Chinese; Tang dynasty, first half 8th century Monochrome blue ware: white earthenware with lead-fluxed, cobalt-blue glaze Probably from kilns at Luoyang or Gongxian (present-day Gongyi), Henan province Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge
Covered, Blue-Glazed, Ovoid Jar
Chinese; Tang dynasty, first half 8th century
Monochrome blue ware: white earthenware with lead-fluxed, cobalt-blue glaze. Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge

By mass, iron is the most common element on Earth. It occurs naturally in soil and clay and thus was easily discovered as a ceramic coloring agent; in fact, though they likely first considered iron an impurity in the clay, Chinese potters quickly learned to master it to create celadon, or pale bluish-green, glazes by limiting the amount of iron oxide in the glaze to around two percent. The earliest celadon glazes, primitive as they were, appeared in the first and second centuries; over the succeeding millennium, Chinese potters perfected celadon glazes, the tradition reaching fruition in the Song dynasty (960–1279). As they sought to expand the palette of glaze colors in the third and fourth centuries, potters realized that the addition of a little more iron oxide, perhaps up to four percent, would result in brown glazes, and that yet a little more, up to about six percent, would result in dark brown glazes that appear black in reflected light. Such dark-glazed wares also came to maturity during the Song dynasty. Already by the fourth century, Chinese further potters understood that that touches of iron-oxide-bearing slip applied to the unfired body of a pot before the application of the glaze slurry would result in underglaze brown dots in the finished piece. Over the centuries, potters learned to expand such “brown dots” into fully painted designs, laying the aesthetic foundation for blue-and-white ware, even if in a different palette.

Lecture Two
From Royal to Navy: Cobalt as Glaze Colorant and as Pigment for Underglaze Painting

Guan Jar with Dragon Décor Chinese; Ming dynasty, Xuande period (1426–1435) Blue-and-white ware: porcelain with decoration in underglaze cobalt blue; with underglaze cobalt-blue mark reading Da Ming Xuandenian zhi From the kilns at Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Guan Jar with Dragon Décor
Chinese; Ming dynasty.
Blue-and-white ware: porcelain with decoration in underglaze. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Cobalt entered the repertory of ceramic coloring agents in the Tang dynasty (618–907), when it occasionally was used to create blue splashes, and sometimes vivid blue glazes, on earthenware vessels and funerary sculptures, particularly in the eighth century. Although limited experiments in the ninth century explored the use of cobalt to create decoration on the then newly invented porcelain, widespread use of cobalt had to await the fourteenth century, during the Yuan dynasty (1279–1368), when potters at Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province, began to employ it for embellishing porcelain vessels, thereby creating blue-and-white ware. The popularity of such colorful wares quickly soared, both for use in China and for export to the Near and Middle East; by the beginning of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), blue-and-white ware had become the most prized ceramic ware at the Imperial Court, largely supplanting the celadon wares that had been favored by royal and aristocratic clients in previous eras. The same cobalt that was used for painting designs on porcelains was sometimes mixed with the glaze slurry to create royal blue glazes. Once introduced into the potters’ repertory, blue-and-white ware has remained popular down to contemporary times.

Lecture Three
Seeing Red: Copper as Glaze Colorant and as Pigment for Underglaze Painting

Dish with Red Glaze Chinese; Ming dynasty, mid- to late 15th century, probably Chenghua period (1465–1487) Sacrificial-red ware: porcelain with copper-red glaze The Asia Society, New York, Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection
Dish with Red Glaze
Chinese; Ming dynasty, mid- to late 15th century. Sacrificial-red ware: porcelain with copper-red glaze
The Asia Society, New York, Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection

Although used in making bronze already during the Shang dynasty (c. 1600 BC–c. 1050 BC), copper did not find use as a ceramic coloring agent until the Han dynasty (206 BC–AD 220), when it occasionally was added to low-fired glazes to create an emerald-green color, those lead-fluxed glazes typically applied to earthenware vessels and funerary sculptures, particularly in the first and second centuries and then again during the Tang dynasty in so-called sancai, or “three-color” wares. In the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries—during the Yuan and beginning of the Ming dynasties—Chinese potters at Jingdezhen experimented with copper-red glazes and with decoration painted in underglaze copper red, developing those wares alongside the better-known porcelains with cobalt-blue glazes and underglaze cobalt-blue decoration. The blue-and-white and red-and-white wares reflect both the rise to preëminence of porcelain and the taste for an expanding palette of colors. The use of copper presented two distinct challenges that the potters had to overcome in order to make effective use of the medium: 1) the tendency of copper red to “bleed” rather to hold fine lines and hard edges, and 2) the need for porcelains with underglaze painting in copper to be fired at exactly the right temperature in order to achieve the perfect “crushed-strawberry red” color (a feat not easily achieved in traditional kilns). By the Xuande reign era (1426–1435) Chinese potters had overcome both challenges, producing those wares considered classic today. Given the medium’s inherent difficulties, however, potters tended to avoid copper reds during the remainder of the Ming dynasty, favoring instead decoration painted in colorful overglaze enamels which soared to popularity beginning in the mid-fifteenth century. In the Qing dynasty (1644–1911), by which time most ceramic challenges had been met, addressed, and overcome, Chinese potters revived interest in underglaze painting in copper red, finally achieving success in creating pieces whose painted designs boast perfect color, fine lines, and hard edges. They also expanded the range of copper-red glazes to include peach bloom, ox-blood (also known as sang-de-boeuf), and others.

2016 Seminar
April 11
The Magic and Majesty of Majolica
Nicolaus Boston
9:30 am – 2:30 pm

The striking and often humorous wares of Victorian majolica will be explored at the CCSC’s Annual Seminar.  Led by international antiques dealer Nicolaus Boston, the three-part seminar, “The Magic and Majesty of Majolica” will delve into the beginnings of majolica wares in Britain, the many workshops, their influences, and designers of note.  

The seminar includes three illustrated lectures, an ample box lunch, and a ‘show-and-tell’ session.

Herbert Minton’s Drive for Perfection
A discussion of 16th-century French ceramicist Bernard Palissy, transitioning to England’s Herbert Minton in the 19th century. It is a story of the drive for perfection, illustrating how Minton plotted to steal the cream of the French ceramics world, finally producing an immense variety of eye-popping and vibrant tablewares and decorative objects in his own manufactory.

Victorian Majolica: The Great Dynasties and The Great Designers
The influences of contemporary art and social movements of the majolica period, 1849 – 1900, casting an eye on such figures as the English designer, Christopher Dresser, French sculptors Baron Carlo Marchetti and Albert Carrier-Belleuse, and the English architect A.W.N. Pugin.

A World View: Forms, Shapes and Delights
A sampling of pieces from the many 19th-century majolica potteries throughout Europe and America, ending with an illuminating look at the more whimsical shapes and fantastical themes of the era.

Concluding the seminar, Mr. Boston will open the floor to attendees who have brought in a piece of majolica for further discussion or identification.

Mr. Boston’s career began at the age of 19 in his family’s antiques business in Salisbury, Wiltshire.  From 1982 until 2006, he owned and operated two antique ceramics shops in London, transitioning to Ireland where he is currently based.  Long a consultant for private and institutional collections, he is a popular speaker on both sides of the Atlantic. His extensive experience as a dealer in Victorian-era pottery and porcelain, traveling for auctions, shows,  exhibits, and curatorial assignments, provides solid ground for this exciting topic.

 

Members and Students with a valid ID:  $95
General Public: $125
For information and reservations: marylin.chou@gmail.com

Lily Conservatory Jardiniere, Minton Majolica earthenware, circa 1875, H. 46″
Mushroom Tureen, Minton Majolica earthenware, circa 1875,, L. 14"
Mushroom Tureen, Minton Majolica earthenware, circa 1875,, L. 14″
Lily Conservatory Jardiniere, Minton Majolica earthenware, circa 1875, H. 46"
Lily Conservatory Jardiniere, Minton Majolica earthenware, circa 1875, H. 46″
Prometheus Vase
Prometheus Vase, Minton Majolica earthenware, designed by Victor Simean, 1873, H. 40″
Punch Bowl, "Punch" character, Minton Majolica earthenware, designed by George Jones, circa 1875 Diam. 15".
Punch Bowl, “Punch” character, Minton Majolica earthenware, designed by George Jones, circa 1875 Diam. 15″.
Teapot, "Monkey-Rooster-Snail", Minton Majolica earthenware, circa 1875, L. 7"
Teapot, “Monkey-Rooster-Snail”, Minton Majolica earthenware, circa 1875, L. 7″
Teapot, "Fish in Waves", Minton Majolica earthenware, circa 1870, H. 6".
Teapot, “Fish in Waves”, Minton Majolica earthenware, circa 1870, H. 6″.

 

Above (Left to Right)
1.Garniture with Scenes from West Lake. China, Qing Dynasty (1644-1911); c. 1700. Porcelain with cobalt underglaze. Jars: h. 40.75″; vases: 36.6″. Albuquerque Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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