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Brief IdentificationEdit

The Bowl with Dragons among Waves is a celadon bowl made during a time of political disunity in China known as the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (907-960 CE) period. The bowl, and those made in a similar style, was coveted by the ruling family of the Wu-Yue kingdom and was created for the use of the ruling family alone [Valenstein 1989, 79]. Currently, the bowl can be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art .

Technical EvaluationEdit

Celadon Bowl

Bowl with Dragon Among Waves (Chinese, Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms, 907-960 CE). From Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The celadon bowl is a piece of siliceous stoneware, meaning that instead of being made from clay it is made from stone such as “igneous rocky material" [Wood 1999, 28]. Much of this material was already present in the environment, but makers of the celadon bowls often created a man-made “weathered” quality [Wood 1999, 28]. Such rock was suitable to the Southern potters because it contained less iron and was "therefor better able to stand the relatively high temperatures needed to mature the early stoneware glazes" [Wood 1999, 29].

Celadon works receive their name from their green glaze. The glaze was feldspathic, meaning it contains a “high percentage of feldspar and a smaller amount of silica” [Gompertz 1958, 2]. It also contained wood ash and limestone as a fluxing agent [Wood 1999, 30]. The resulting mixture had a “small amount of iron, usually from one to three percent” that when fired gave the glaze its famous green color [Gompertz 1958, 2]; glazes that included ferrous oxide had a more yellow color, and glazes with ferrous oxide had were more blue in tone. Proper oxidation was also crucial for achieving the green tone. The celadon pieces were fired in a reducing atmosphere, meaning that less oxygen was available during firing; the result was a green or yellow glaze, while being fired in a oxidizing atmosphere turned the glaze brown [Gompertz 1958, 3].

To achieve the proper oxidation, Southern Chinese potters fired their works in dragon, or long, kilns [Wood 1999, 33]. Developed during the Warring States period (475-221 BCE), the kilns were improved over time but retained a simple design. A narrowing tunnel with a firebox at one end was built into a hill. The flames were stoked via side ports. The kiln grew hotter over time until the top of the kiln was heated to a temperature of bewteen 1100 degrees Celsius to 1190 degrees Celsius, at which point “the kiln was allowed to cool" [Wood 1999, 35]. This type of firing constantly re-heated the pots. Kilns were eventually able to fire many thousands of pieces at once, making the dragon kiln an efficient form of firing [Wood 1999, 35].

In terms of decoration, three dragons, a common design found in similar bowls [Gompertz 1958, 17], were carved into the Bowl with Dragons among Waves. One of the dragons has its tail tucked between its legs, which is a trademark of works made in the Yue kilns.

The bowl came to be in the Metropolitan Art Museum in 1918 when it was purchased from S.W. Bosch Reitz . It was later identified as bise yao after shards of ceramic were found in the Shang-lin-hu kiln matched to the style of the Bowl with Dragons among Waves [Gompertz 1958, 15].

Local Historical ContextEdit

During the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE), the central government was rocked by the An Lushan Rebellion (755-763 CE) and the Huang Chao Rebellion (875-894 CE) [Lorge 2011, 2]. Warlord governors turned the land under their control into “autonomous personal domains” [Lagasse 2000, 995]. This led to a time of political fragmentation in China called the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period [Lorge 2011, 2]. During this time, North and South China were governed in distinctly different ways. Rule in the North was characterized by “warlords” competing to overthrow the preceding dynasty, leading to a series of five dynasties [Liu 2007, 1]; Southern China was ruled by ten kingdoms who coexisted, but competed with each other for territory. The economies of the various dynasties and kingdoms faltered. Money fell into disuse and was replaced by a barter system [Lagasse 2000, 995]. Overall, this was a time of “anarchy and national disunity” [Lagasse 2000, 995]. 

Despite the unrest that characterized the political and economic areas of this period, creation of Yue ware—classified as “early celadon wares manufactured in Chekiang province, in the general area of Hangchou, as well as the later pi-se yao of Chinese literary fame” [Gompertz 1958, 4]—peaked during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms [Valenstein 1989, 79]. Poets wrote verses about the celadon creations [Gompertz 1958, 4]. Many of the celadon bowls produced in the Shang-lin-hu kiln, such as the Bowl with Dragonsamong Waves, were known as bise yao,  or pi-se yao, a term that "literally means "prohibited" or "private color ware ."" Bise yao were made explicitly for the use of the Qian family, who ruled the Wu-Yue kingdom in the South [Valenstein 1989, 79].

World Historical SignificanceEdit

The Bowl with Dragons among Waves represents how Chinese culture flourished during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period despite the ongoing turmoil; for example, in addition to the high-quality ceramics being produced, cultural achievements in China during this time include woodblock printing and the "first complete printing of the Confucian Classics ". The Yue wares themselves were an important transitional step between the art of the Tang Dynasty and that of the Song Dynasty [Valenstein 1989, 79]. Also, the bise yao continued to be created into the Song dynasty, and were traded across Asia to countries such as India, Persia, Egypt, Turkey, and Japan, before being exported to Europe. The influence of Chinese potters can be seen in the art of cultures it came in contact with, such as the celadon pieces of the Korean potters during the same time period [Gompertz 1958, 20]. 

Overall, the Bowl with Dragons among Waves is part of a Chinese trend in exporting cerarmics that transcended the period in which it was made; such pieces were part of an extended trade route that connected China to other parts of the world and established the country's ability to make enviable ceramics, as well as representing how China influenced the countries, such as Korea, in the nearby vicinity [Gompertz 1958, 20]. 

Suggested BibliographyEdit

Gompertz, G. Sr. G. M. Chinese Celadon Wares, edited by W. B. Honey and Arther Lane. London: Faber and Faber, 1958.

Lagasse, Paul, ed. “Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms,” in Columbia Encyclopedia, 995. Columbia University Press, 2000. 

Liu, Jason. Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms. Boulder: Lakeside Publishing Group, 2007. 

Lorge, Peter, ed. Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms. Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 2011. 

Valenstein, Suzanne G. A Handbook of Chinese Ceramics. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1989. 

Wood, Nigel. Chinese Glazes: Their Origins, Chemistry and Recreation. London: A & C Black Limited, 1999.

Britannica Online. "Celadon." Accessed November 14, 2016.https://www.britannica.com/art/celadon

Britannica Online. "Five Dynasties." Accessed November 14, 2016. https://www.britannica.com/event/Five-Dynasties'

Britannica Online. "Tang Dynasty." Accessed November 14, 2016. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Tang-dynasty

Metropolitan Museum of Art. “Bowl with Dragons Among Waves.” Accessed November 6, 2016. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/18.56.36/

Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Bowl with Dragons Among Waves." Accessed November 14, 2016. http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/39649?sortBy=Relevance&when=A.D.+500-1000&where=China&what=Bowls%7cCeramics&ft=*&offset=0&rpp=20&pos=6 

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