Blanc de Chine (Dehua Ware) & Jingdezhen

Blanc de Chine

Blanc de Chine, or Dehua Yao, is the name for a pure white or unctuous (slightly yellow) bodied porcelain from the province of Fujian. The harbors along the Fujian coast and the clays in that area were suitable for a large scale ceramic industry, so the government in the Ming period encouraged the development of Dehua porcelains. Dehua Blanc de Chine porcelains have been manufactured for both domestic and export purposes.

Blanc de Chine Technique

The Dehua ware potter would create a beautiful image and make it into a mold. The mold was usually 2-part, but could be a more complex mold form. The potter would lay a slab of rather thick clay, sometimes a quarter of an inch or more, into both halves of the mold, pressing it in to make sure that it registers all of the detail of the form. When the clay body was in its leather-hard state the molded halves were extracted from the molds, cut, trimmed, and fused. At this point very finely wrought, hand made additions would be added such as ears, whiskers, hands, fingers, toes, walking staff, etc. Then all was let to dry. It was finished after the dry state by further trimming and polishing, and then the whole piece would be glazed. This produced the impression that the entire image had been wrought from scratch because of all the fine hand made details that would not be possible in a purely molded piece. These hand wrought elements are common in even smaller pieces of Dehua ware, such as the handles on either side of Blanc de Chine incense burners.

Blanc de Chine Sculptural Character

Beyond the fine white or slight yellow (unctuous) glazes of the porcelain, the most important aspect of Blanc de Chine is the sculptural character of the work. The Dehua potters were extraordinary craftsmen in that they were able to create images of great sculptural merit in finely crafted forms. The Taoist and the Buddhist societies and temples in the area of Fujian ordered various images of deities, saints, immortals, and paragons of their faith done in this gorgeous white ware. Many Guan Yins, images of the Buddha, or Lao Tse of the Taoists became common subjects for the artists of Dehua. As the Portuguese came with their Jesuit influence in the Philippines and in Fujian they brought with them the images of the Christ and the Madonna with Child. The aspect of Guan Yin made a very perfect body on which to create a hybrid that could be understood as a Madonna. This is a 17th – 18th century phenomena in Chinese art in general, but the history of the Portuguese influence on Dehua ware is very clear because of the number of Christian deities that were produced.

European Trade

Many of the Dehua porcelains had been traded throughout the world, especially through the southern routes of trade that were common to Chinese and European traders. First the Chinese junks took the Dehua porcelains to the Philippines and Indonesia and through parts of Southeast Asia at the common trade ports that had been developed. As the Europeans came into the market in the 16th and 17th centuries, the porcelains were taken in huge numbers into Europe. The Portuguese, French, and Dutch were all great traders in Chinese porcelains in general, and Dehua ware became a favorite of the European aristocracy and wealthy merchants and were therefore often part of the cargo of the European trading ships. Many of these Dehua wares in pure white were glazed in polychrome form in Europe and then fired to create a new kind of object in various countries.

The names that we have for Chinese wares such as Blanc de Chine, Famille Verte, Famille Rose, Famille Noire, are French and have those names because the wares that were traded into Europe became known by the general categories developed by the French as they were imported.

Jingdezhen

The Dehua wares tend to have a heavier body than the body of the wares coming from Jingdezhen. Jingdezhen, which was founded in the 10th century, was always the manufacturer of courtly goods for the Chinese aristocracy. The Jingdezhen wares have a thinner, finer, clay body and glaze. They are mostly what are called round wares: plates, bowls, small dishes, large vases. In the early years, especially the Yuan and Ming Dynasties, they were painted with the under glaze blue, which means that the cobalt blue design was painted onto the bisque ware and then the transparent glaze was added and fired. As time went by the painting and glaze of Jingdezhen wares were painted in remarkable and complex designs, with designs both under the glaze and over the glaze. The use of enamels, which is powdered glass particles, became a very important part of extraordinary ceramic pieces achieving a gorgeous and sumptuous visual impact.