Ceramic Treasures of China (11th c. BC – 14th c. AD)

8 avril 2005 - 31 juillet 2005


Under the patronage of the Zhejiang Provincial Museum

The Baur Collection is proud to present, for the first time in Europe, an exhibition of exceptional ceramics, selected from the collections of six museums in Zhejiang province: the Provincial Museum of Hangzhou, and the museums of Cixi, Longquan, Qingyuan, Shangyu and Xiaoshan. This exhibition, organised in conjunction with the Musée Cernuschi Musée des Arts de la Ville de Paris, will be presented there from the 9th of September to the 30th of December 2005.

Ceramics, art of fire and earth, represents one of the most emblematic artistic expressions of the Middle Kingdom. From the earliest time Zhejiang province was a major cradle of this art specialising in the production of iron-oxide glazed stoneware fired in a reducing atmosphere. The soft colour tones and the magical milky opacity of these ceramics struck a deep chord in Europe. In 18th century France the term “celadon ware” was coined for them after the name of the hero of The Astrée, a novel by Honoré d’Urfé (1568-1625).

This exhibition retraces the history and development of celadon ware over more than two millennia, from the Zhou (1050-256 BC) to the Yuan (1279-1368 AD) dynasties. Almost one hundred pieces will be on show, revealing all the nuances of colour and variety of shape and decoration achieved by the potters. Some of them are unequalled in the major western collections.

The first part of the exhibition highlights the beginnings of celadon ware from the first “primitive stoneware” of the Zhou dynasty to the porcellaneous stoneware of the Han (206 BC – 220 AD). Production during this period grew rapidly although the forms – jars, zun vases, tripods and ewers – as well as their decorative motifs still remained close to those of bronze ritual vessels.

A remarkable series of pieces from the Three Kingdoms (221-280) and Six Dynasties (265-589), in the second part of the exhibition, illustrates the passage from utilitarian and ritual ceramic ware to decorative wares with the development of “Yue celadons”, named after the ancient kingdom of Yue. Elegant and expressive, these pieces reveal a new range of shapes including lamps, candlesticks, chicken-headed ewers, incense burners, and “soul urns”. The glazes now vary from a pale grey-green to an intense deep green.

In the third part, works of simple yet elegant and sober lines exemplify the zenith of the Yue kilns’ production, from the 8th to the 11th centuries, from the Tang (618-907) to the early Northern Song (960-1126) dynasties. The importance of a new pastime among the Chinese scholars - tea drinking - may explain the revitalisation and the renewed creativity of these workshops. Their renown spread with the sober beauty of their ceramic shapes - bowls, saucers, jars, incense burners, boxes, headrests – and of their matchless glazes which, according to Lu Yu (733-804) author of the Chajing, the Classic of Tea, could be compared to jade and ice. The lustrous soft green wares known as “secret colour” (mise) were reserved for the imperial court and the ruling classes.

Celadon ware reached its peak between the 11th and 14th centuries under the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1279-1638) dynasties, a period of great cultural refinement and sophistication. Two styles were to emerge in the Longquan region, in the south of Zhejiang: the first, in the 11th century, was a pale silver-green celadon, soft and transparent, suitable for deeply incised under-glaze floral designs; the second, from the 12th century on, was an opaque “powder green” or “plum green”, with subtle tones emphasising the purity of the lines. These are presented in the fourth part of the exhibition, with pieces that exemplify the birth and glory of this fabulous stoneware, including dragon and multi-spout vases, “mallet” vases, and censers.

As a complement to this historical development, the exhibition will also present a selection of shards from various kiln sites in the province, illustrating the evolution of materials and techniques over these two millennia.