Chinese Imari - From the 18th to The 21st century
When speaking of oriental porcelain we normally associate the name "Imari" with Japan, but there is also a Chinese Imari! Production began in 1700 and continues to this day.
When speaking of oriental porcelain we normally associate the name "Imari" with Japan, but there is also a Chinese Imari. Production of Japanese style decoration began at Jingdezhen in the early 18th century. Jingdezhen, historically, being the great centre of Chinese porcelain production.
For over 2,000 years, Jingdezhen has been known as the Porcelain Capital of the world. Originally known as Xinpin, its name was changed when the Jingde Emperor (1004-1007) of the Southern Song dynasty, decreed all the pieces made for the Imperial court were to be marked 'made in the Jingde period’.
During the long Ming and Qing dynasties, porcelain production reached new levels of refinement and kilns were set up to cater exclusively to the need of the imperial house. The imperial porcelain was so exquisite that it was described as being "as white as jade, as bright as a mirror, as thin as paper, with a sound as clear as a bell". Today, Jingdezhen remains the national Chinese centre for porcelain production.
The Japanese, circa 1700, were the first to produce the combination of enamel colours which typify the Imari pallet, underglaze blue, red and gilt, and occasionally green enamels.
Dutch traders now had a monopoly on the insatiable European demand for porcelain. The first large orders placed with the Japanese kilns at Arita by the Dutch East India Company in 1656. With trade peaking in the late 17th century It soon came to the attention of the vast Chinese Imperial kilns at Jingdezhen, that Japanese Imari porcelain was in high demand in Europe and promptly began to produce Imari wares in competition with the Japanese.
The first Chinese Imari pieces were produced during the latter half of Kangxi Emperors reign (1662-1722).with the kilns soon producing a Chinese version of the Japanese Imari style. With the establishment of large European orders, Chinese kilns slowly replaced the Japanese production in the early 18th century, particularly as social conditions in China settled down, the production of export porcelain having almost stopped with the turmoil at the end of the Ming dynasty. Now, with the full establishment of the Qing dynasty, the factories reopened around 1700 with the Jingdezhen kilns finally eclipsing the original Japanese exports.
The Chinese product differs from the Japanese Imari in that the porcelain is thinner and clearer in colour with the decoration more delicate and more sparsely placed. The decoration can also include painting in the Famille Verte enamels with some of the earliest armorial services produced for the English market decorated in the Chinese Imari style. This first period of Chinese porcelain in Japanese Imari style is generally considered to have been produced from circa1700 – circa 1760.
The Chinese attitude to their vast legacy of art and design differs markedly from Western thinking, which tends to classify art into different historic periods, associating styles, framed in time.
The Chinese, on the other hand, tend to overlap distinctive artistic styles with no real concept of when a style began, or, if it had reached a finish date! And Chinese Imari certainly fits this concept. Chinese Imari is still produced at Jingdezhen today and examples are still decorated with devices and symbols, so ancient that few have the understanding to interpret their meaning.
As example, the decoration often includes the ancient “Eight Trigrams” dating to 2852 - 2737 BCE. The eight trigrams are groups of lines arranged in ranks; they form the bases of the Bagua, which is an ancient Chinese system of philosophy and divination. The symbols were and, are used as a decorative motif on many Chinese items.
Chinas' recorded history of over 5000 years has left a vast legacy of art and design and it is from this wealth of art that China still draws from.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Maurice Robertson, principal of The Antique and Vintage Table Lamp Co , has had a lifetime’s association with antique porcelain and pottery.