Ceramics in Asian Art

Arts of Asia Magazine featuring fine porcelain vases from Japan. Ceramics is the art of making objects of clay and firing them in a kiln. Wares of earthenware and porcelain, as well as sculpture are made by ceramists. Enamel is also a ceramic technique. Ceramic materials may be decorated with slip, engobe, or glaze, applied by a number of techniques, including resist, mishima, and sanggam. The wide range of materials that fall within this classification includes ceramics that are composed of clay minerals, cement, and glass. These materials are typically more resistant to high temperatures and harsh environments than metals and polymers (plastics). Ceramics are extremely hard but also very brittle.

Vintage ceramic Chinese Buddha (9 in. tall) - from the Villa Del Prado Light of Asia Collection Artists have long used various ceramic materials to fashion statues of Shakyamuni Buddha. Some of the earliest works are clay and earthenware. The Chinese probably made the first true porcelain during the Tang dynasty (618-907). For centuries, the Chinese made the world's finest porcelain. For this reason it is often called china, or chinaware. The techniques for combining the proper ingredients and firing the mixture at extremely high temperatures gradually developed out of the manufacture of stoneware. During the Song dynasty (960-1279), Chinese emperors started royal factories to produce porcelain for their palaces. Since the 1300's, most Chinese porcelain has been made in the city of Jingdezhen. By the 1100's, the secret of making porcelain had spread to Korea and to Japan in the 1500's, and then later to Europe in the 1700's.

Chinese Dehua Porcelain (8 in. tall) - 19th C - from the Villa Del Prado Light of Asia Collection Porcelain is a type of ceramics highly valued for its beauty and strength. Porcelain is characterized by whiteness, a delicate appearance, and translucence (ability to let light through). Because it is the hardest ceramic product, porcelain is used for electrical insulators and laboratory equipment. However, porcelain is known primarily as a material for high-quality vases and tableware, as well as for figurines and other decorative objects. The type of porcelain that is used for such purposes produces a bell-like ring when struck. One of the most prized is Dehua porcelain or Blanc de Chine as it is known to the West, a pure ivory-white porcelain made at the Dehua kilns in the Southern Chinese province of Fujian.

Japanese Satsuma (gilt earthenware) (8 in. tall) - 19th C - from the Villa Del Prado Light of Asia Collection Besides China and Korea, ceramics remains a vital and exciting form of art in Japan as well. Besides porcelain, Japanese artists are also renowned for their satsuma earthenware, a brown clay painstakingly painted with thick enamels. In contrast to most countries where ceramic artists have a difficult time earning a living, Japan has tens of thousands of successful ceramic artists. Historical and regional traditions of ceramic production continue to flourish, and tea bowls and other pieces for 'cha no yu' continue to be made and used. Japan continues to maintain a high degree of ceramic artistry, which is at the same time very traditional and very modernistic.

Closeups of the statues on this page and every sculpture in the Villa Del Prado Light of Asia Collection can be found on the main page.

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