Updated: Oct 18, 2018
In our last blog, we introduced Ruyao (Ru ware), one of the five royal kilns in the the Song dynasty(960-1279). While Ruyao is often considered as the crown of all royal Song kilns due to its rarity, it can hardly overshadow other royal kilns. Today, let’s talk about another famous Song royal kiln: Dingyao (Ding Ware, Chinese: 定窑).
Different from Ruyao, Dingyao enjoyed a long and prosperous period. Dingyao first appeared during the Tang dynasty (618-907); and it thrived during The Song dynasty(960-1279); finally, Dingyao kiln’s glory ended with the doom of the Song dynasty. Originally, Dingyao was made in Quyang, Yanchuan and Linshan in today’s Hebei province (Chinese: 河北). But Dingyao was actually named after Dingzhou (Chinese: 定州, meaning: the city of Ding or the state of Ding), a city in the Tang era.
Dingyao is famous for its white-glazed china. During its evolution, Dingyao also developed black-glazed, Jiang(purple gold)-glazed and green-glazed china. Based on their colors, they can also be called Black Ding, Purple Ding and Green Ding. Unlike most other royal kiln products that have simpler color and designs, Dingyao is often decorated with engraved or cut flower patterns. Since Dingyao didn’t become a royal kiln until Song dynasty, its quality and design changed multiple times. In its early days, Dingyao was thicker and rougher. Between late Tang and early “five dynasty period”, despite being a famous kiln already, Dingyao products were made for a more practical purpose. Bowls, pots, and containers were common designs during that period.
During mid to late “five dynasty period”, Dingyao underwent a major technological breakthrough in its china-making. Dingyao during this period of time no longer required “make-up glaze”, a thin layer of clay-mud that could enhance the whiteness and the brightness of china. Since then, Dingyao became delicate and thin, and its designs were not longer limited to daily objects such as pots and bowls. Artistic vases and ornaments were created just for the aesthetic pleasure.
The Song dynasty is when Dingyao rose to its prominence. Dingyao’s royal status granted it could spared no expense on its china-making. Nearly all of the collectibles are from this era. Emperor Qianlong of Qing dynasty composed 6 poems that praised the aestheticism and the rarity of Dingyao ware. In his poems, Emperor Qianlong analogized Dingyao to soft jade and bright pearl. Emperor Qianlong favored Dingyao so much that he even directed artisans to engrave his poems onto his Dingyao collection. Modern collectors still share Emperor Qianlong’s enthusiasm. Dingyao from the Song era made many auction records. In Sotheby’s 2014 spring auction, a Dingyao ware was sold at an astonishing $17,000,000.
Like other royal kilns during dynasty, Dingyao was lost when the royal court of Song doomed. It was not until the 1970s that Dingyao recovered its glory. Nowadays, Dingyao ware is a popular teaware material. With modern china-making techniques, Dingyao is further improved. Modern Dingyao ware has a perfect and balanced glaze. Modern Dingyao also has a higher brightness and a richer color. The production of Dingyao also shifted from north China to the south.
After hundreds of years of transformation, Dingyao finally becomes approachable to people outside royal courts. Tea drinkers today have the option to elevate their tea drinking experience with a teaware such as Ruyao and Dingyao that carry the historical significance.
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