Pacific Asia Museum

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Imperial Patronage in Chinese Ceramics


Chinese imperial families, like royal families throughout history, expressed their status with objects such as garments, ornaments, furniture, paintings and ceramics. In creating and preparing these objects, the very best artisans and artists were recruited nationwide and no expense was spared. The authority and grandeur of the imperial families were manifested at times on a grand scale with exuberance, other times with perfection and minute intricacy. Imperial ceramics are good examples for gauging the seemingly limitless resources that the Chinese imperial families expended on such items.

Records indicate that kilns in Jingdezhen (in Jiangxi Province) produced ceramics for the imperial household for over 1,700 years, dating from the Han dynasty. Officials were sent directly from the imperial court in order to control production quality and exclusive distribution networks. Ceramics produced in the imperial kilns in Jingdezhen exhibit near flawless glazes, perfect shapes, and intricate details as seen in the objects in this case, all of which attest to the extraordinary skill of the potters. Ceramics were embellished with imperial symbols such as dragons and phoenixes as well as motifs of flowers and plants with auspicious meanings. Many bear marks indicating during which reign they were made on the bottom of the ceramics.

In the uncertain times of the late Ming dynasty, the production of imperial ceramics in Jingdezhen declined. However, the subsequent Qing emperors reinvigorated these imperial kilns as a way to express their power and sophisticated taste as well as to claim their legitimacy by connecting themselves to the previous emperors.

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