Yuan Dynasty Ceramics

In the Yuan dynasty China was under Mongol rule. During that period the production of porcelain and pottery continued and basically followed the Song heritage. There were some developments and improvements in manufacturing methods made, though, and the focus of production shifted to blue and white porcelain.

Porcelain tiles
Although it is supposed that tiles did exist at least since the Tang dynasty, reliable proof for their existence is currently only available for the Yuan dynasty. Decorated Yuan porcelain tiles (Yuan dynasty: 1206-1368) had various shapes and were embedded in the wood of furniture as decoration.

Shufu porcelain (Shufu ware)
Shufu wares are a type of porcelain specifically made at the Hutian kiln during the Yuan dynasty. This type of porcelain has an appearance similar to "qingbai" or white porcelain, but has an off-white color with a very opaque glaze. The glaze of Shufu porcelain is completely non-reflective. This is sometimes described as a "candle wax" appearance.
Together with an impressed porcelain decoration that is protruding from the base material, these features allow for easy recognition of Shufu ware.

Shufu plate (Yuan)

Yuan dynasty Shufu plate


The name itself comes for the characters for Shufu (樞府), which can be found on some of the porcelain items, which were made to order for the imperial court.
There do exist items with different and some have no writing at all.
Generally it is thought that these all were made exclusively for the Mongol ruling class.

Porcelain items carrying the Shufu characters are considered imperial porcelain. The majority of Shufu items are generally small items for daily use, like plates, bowls, etc. Vases, jars, etc. are less frequent.

Underglaze blue porcelain decorations

During the Zhizheng reign (1341–1368), towards the end of the dynasty (1206-1368) underglaze blue painted decorations were further developed at Jingdezhen. But, at the same time development of underglaze red decorations met technical difficulties and only limited quantities of these could be produced.

Polychrome decorations existed already earlier, but painted decorations were few and mostly limited to the colors green and red. Opinions of the actual beginnings of underglaze blue decorations differ as archaeological and other proof is still insufficient, but the earliest underglaze blue decorations found to date are from the Tang dynasty. There are extremely few of them extant.

Export of blue and white porcelain
Quantities of these wares were exported to more than a dozen places in SE Asia, South Asia, the Middle East and possibly East Africa.
The blue and white porcelain exported to SE Asia consisted mainly of smaller items, while those going to the Middle East were mainly large items.

Yuan dynasty jarlet in blue and white porcelain

Yuan dynasty underglaze blue jarlet

Today, the blue and white porcelain of this era is highly priced.
It was rare enough, speaking of numbers, at the time. Rare enough that during the following Ming and Qing dynasties neither the imperial government nor general population were aware of a previous existence of blue and white porcelain in the Yuan dynasty.
The blue and white porcelain was only rediscovered in the early 20th century.

While in the Song dynasty celadon wares were probably the most favored ceramics, which were also heavily exported to the Middle East, the Mongol rulers took a liking to the still uncommon blue and white ceramics. This can be considered as one of the causes for a major decline of celadon producing kilns, overall, during the Mongolian rule. Jingdezhen with its blue and white porcelain became more important.

Longquan Celadon
Only the kilns producing Longquan celadons in the south were an exception. While production of other celadon kilns generally declined, the production of Longquan kilns grew, paradoxically, due to huge export orders.

Green and Red Decorations (on-glaze)
Worth mentioning is also that painted (pictorial) on-glaze decorations in the colors red and green also reached new levels during this period. They now already had the quality of the Zhaozhou wares (aka Swatow wares) that were exported to Japan throughout the later Ming dynasty, until the 17th century.

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