CHINA Palace Museum in Beijing delves into the history of China's famous 'Older Brother' porcelain wares


Palace Museum in Beijing delves into the history of China's famous 'Older Brother' porcelain wares

Global Times | Global Times

02:54, November 28, 2017

Ge wares on display at the Golden Thread, Iron Wire exhibition in the Palace Museum Photo: IC

Ge wares on display at the Golden Thread, Iron Wire exhibition in the Palace Museum Photo: IC

The Palace Museum in Beijing has opened its doors to a new exhibition that will enable visitors to explore the history and mystery surrounding one of China's most famous types of porcelain wares: Ge ware. 
The Golden Thread, Iron Wire exhibition is currently being held at the Western Side Hall of the Palace of Prolonged Happiness until August 31, 2018.
Ge wares, also known as 'Older Brother' wares, are considered one of the five great types of porcelain wares of the Song Dynasty (960-1279) along with Ru, Ding, Jun, and Guan wares. 
Since the original kiln where these wares were first produced remains uncovered, Ge wares remain a topic of heated discussion among historians and researchers all over the world.  
The current exhibition is the last in a series of exhibitions of the five great Song wares held by the museum since 2010. A total of 113 original and replica ceramics are on display, accompanied by a selection of porcelain chips and restored wares chosen from six other Chinese museums and cultural relic institutions in order to give visitors a window into the history of these famous wares. 
The ceramic collection at the Palace Museum is famous for both the quality and quantity of its relics. Most of the ceramics were originally part of the collection that was passed down through numerous Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) emperors.
The exhibition is divided into three sections: extant and unearthed Ge wares, an investigation into the possible site of the Ge kiln and an introduction to the impact these wares had on the art of porcelain making. 
Golden Thread, Iron Wire
The exhibition, Golden Thread, Iron Wire, is named after one of the defining features of Ge ware - the numerous cracks, or crackle, that appears throughout the glaze layer of the wares. 
The body of a Ge bowl or plate can come in a variety of colors such as bluish gray, powdery cyan and beige, while the cracks mainly come in two colors: a dark grey and a yellowish color. The dark grey cracks tend to be rather large, while the yellowish colored cracks tend to be more fine and thin, hence the name Golden Thread, Iron Wire. 
While cracks are seen as something of an unintentional flaw in most types of porcelain - a result of the fact that the ceramic and glaze layers of a work contract at different speeds - when it comes to Ge ware these cracks were something deliberately introduced by the porcelain makers because the literati of the time found them aesthetically pleasing. 
For most types of porcelains, craftsmen would try to maintain a steady temperature inside the kilns in order to allow their wares to cool down at a slow and steady rate, thus avoiding rapid contraction and the appearance of cracks. However, when it came to Ge wares, craftsman would deliberately open their kilns to allow cool air to enter. When this cool air reached the hot porcelain it would cause the ceramic and glaze layers to rapidly contract and therefore cause numerous cracks to appear in the glaze, which contracted faster.  
To date, researchers are unsure as to why the thicker and thinner cracks result in different colors, some theorize that this is due to the different degree of oxidation that the cracks experience. Since oxygen is more easily able to enter the larger cracks, they tend to turn a far darker color than the thinner cracks. 
As to the form of the wares, Ge ceramics range from bowls and plates to vases with handles that resemble the bronze wares popular during the Shang (C.1600BC-1046BC) and Zhou dynasties (1046BC-256BC).
Unsolved puzzle
As part of the exhibition, the museum held a seminar on Ge wares on November 14-15, during which tracking down the location of the kiln Ge wares originated from was the biggest point of discussion. 
According to tradition, the creation of Ge wares involved two brothers who lived in Longquan, Zhejiang Province, during the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279). 
Zhang Shengyi and his younger brother, Zhang Sheng'er, were both porcelain makers, but the older brother was far more successful. 
One day in a fit of jealousy, the younger brother snuck into the older brother's workshop, threw open the kiln door and threw a pot of cold vinegar on the hot porcelain wares inside. This cold vinegar caused the glaze to contract at a rapid speed, leading to thousands of cracks to appear in the wares. Happy that he had destroyed his brother's work, the younger brother left. 
When the older brother discovered the cracked wares, he was of course angry, but figuring he could still make some money from the ruined wares he decided to take them to the market and sell them. 
Surprisingly, the cracked wares became a big hit. From that point on the older brother, began deliberately blowing cold air into his kiln to make these cracked wares, and he ended up becoming even more successful. 
While this story is just a legend passed down through the centuries, archeological evidence does indicate that Longquan was a major base for the production of Ge wares. 

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