Celadon, China’s Quintessential Porcelain Crafting Tradition
Even though currently “blue and white” porcelain has come to represent the ultimate symbol of Chinese porcelain craftsmanship, it is in fact the distinctive jade green colored celadon 青瓷 (qing ci) that has occupied the position as the quintessential and representative Chinese porcelain for much longer.
Celadon crafting was an ancient Chinese innovation and has been China’s most prized porcelain since the Tang Dynasty (618 AD-907 AD) when it was largely traded with the Islamic world in Ancient Persia (present day Iran), the Middle East, and with various kingdoms that comprise present day India.
Celadon porcelain was long known in the ancient world as a “mystery porcelain” (蜜色瓷 mi se ci ). There is a whole chapter inside the fascinating book Color: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay devoted to the legend of the “mystery green” that is celadon’s characteristic green color.
Up until the 14th century, outside of China and Korea, nobody knew how to achieve the required extremely high temperature firing (1100°-1300° Celsius or 2012° -2372° Fahrenheit) to produce celadon’s prized jade green color. China’s celadon innovation was taught to artisans in Korea and Thailand which have each developed their own indigenous celadon crafting traditions.
There are three main theories of where the English name of “celadon” comes from all reflecting China’s history of trade of their prized celadon. These three theories are repeated in most sources on the topic so for ease we will quote from Wikipedia:
One theory is that the term first appeared in France in the 17th century and that it is named after the shepherd Celadon in Honoré d’Urfé’s French pastoral romance, L’Astrée (1627), who wore pale green ribbons. (D’Urfe, in turn, borrowed his character from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.) Another theory is that the term is a corruption of the name of Saladin (Salah ad-Din), the Ayyubid Sultan, who in 1171 sent forty pieces of the ceramic to Nur ad-Din Zengi, Sultan of Syria. Yet a third theory is that the word derives from the Sanskrit sila and dhara, which mean “stone” and “green” respectively.
Celadon’s origins as an ancient Chinese innovation has a legacy that is still alive and vibrant in China today. The tradition of hand-crafting celadon has continued throughout China. In China’s porcelain crafting capital of Jingdezhen, our artists take this ancient artisan tradition and infuse it with a fresh and modern outlook for Tranquil Tuesdays’ celadon collection.
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