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Exhibition Highlights Global Reach of Longquan Celadon

Updated: 2019-07-16 16:47:34
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Location: Hall for Abstinence (Zhai gong), Palace of Great Benevolence (Jingren gong)
Dates: 2019-07-16 through 2019-10-20
Admission: Free with general admission ticket

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15 July 2019—“Longquan of the World: Longquan Celadon and Globalization” is now officially open at the Hall for Abstinence (Zhai gong) in the Forbidden City. Organized jointly by the Palace Museum, Zhejiang Provincial Museum, and the People’s Government of Lishui with major support by Longfor Group Holdings Ltd., the exhibition features 833 pieces (or sets) of Longquan celadon and related cultural artifacts from forty-two institutions in China and around the world. The galleries use the perspective of Longquan celadon to describe exchange between China and the world, as well as the mutual appreciation and development of the artform, in an unprecedented scale with more pieces on view from the greatest variety of sources than any previous exhibition.

Longquan celadon (Longquan qingci) refers to ceramics with the celadon glaze (typically in hues of willow-green, grey-green, or yellowish-green) made at the kilns in Longquan, Jincun, and surrounding areas during the Song (960–1279), Yuan (1279–1368), and Ming (1368-1644) dynasties. Highly valued throughout history, Longquan celadon began have a distinctive style in the Northern Song dynasty (960–1127) and experienced a duration of flourishing production and use throughout the Southern Song (1127–1279), Yuan, and Ming dynasties. The distinct opaque glaze (ruzhuo you, lit. “milky-turbid glaze”) became one of the products’ defining features. Due to its superior quality and aesthetic value, Longquan celadon was presented as tribute to the imperial court from the Northern Song to the early-Ming periods.

Longquan celadon has been widely used and celebrated throughout Chinese history. Unsurprisingly, archaeologists have unearthed quantities of the ceramics from the Song, Yuan, and Ming dynasties at sites throughout China. Meanwhile, these wares were exported from the country during those three dynasties across the land and sea routes of the great trade network known as the Silk Road. Excavations at various sites and shipwrecks throughout Asia, Africa, and Europe have resulted in large amounts of the ceramics. Moreover, many countries have collections of well-preserved articles. This noteworthy evidence shows the global reach of Longquan celadon.

As the domestic and global demand for Longquan celadon grew, the sale of the ceramics brought a great deal of revenue to China while stimulating the economy and resulting in the division of labor among various sectors of society and different regions of the country. As the ceramics became an important force in the domestic and global market, imitations were created around the world. From the twelfth to the twentieth centuries, kilns in Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, Iran, Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Japan, England, and other countries and regions produced celadon wares in accordance with the Longquan tradition. Although some of the imitations were made with local techniques and designs, others comprehensively reproduced the Longquan approach. This phenomenon is an early example of globalization and a testament to the mutual appreciation of a Chinese form of art.

Divided into four sections, the exhibition employs Longquan celadon to present the history of the Silk Road land and maritime trade routes in a three-dimensional way. Section one, “The History of Longquan Celadon”, describes Longquan celadon through the course of history with an emphasis on its development over a thousand years and the endogenous causes for its global influence; the works in this section were selected to highlight quintessential characteristics of each time period. The second section, “Longquan Celadon: A Chinese Treasure”, presents Longquan celadon’s deep connection with the dynastic establishment throughout China’s history while vividly showing internal correlations between the ceramics and Chinese culture; this section’s featured items are of the highest quality and were taken primarily from the Palace Museum’s Qing-court collection with additional items from excavations at the Longquan kiln ruins. The next section, “The Global Popularity of Longquan Celadon”, shows the historic trade of Longquan celadon on the domestic Chinese market and around the world with an emphasis on the twelfth through fifteenth centuries. The exhibition includes works unearthed at archaeological sites among the ruins of graves, kilns, storehouses, ports, and shipwrecks; among these works are important collection pieces from national institutions in Iran, Japan, and other countries. The fourth and final section, “Echoes of Exchange” displays imitations of Longquan celadon produced at kilns in China and around the globe with wares from Fujian, Guangdong, Jiangxi, and other places in China and countries including Iran, Japan, England, Vietnam, and Thailand. Juxtaposed with authentic Longquan works, the imitations show the influence of the original techniques and designs and the international appreciation for the Chinese artform.

The exhibition is planned in two stages with the first at the Palace Museum from 15 July until 20 October 2019 at the Hall for Abstinence (Zhai gong) and Palace of Great Benevolence (Jingren gong) and the second at Zhejiang Provincial Museum from 15 November 2019 through 16 February 2020.

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Translated and edited by Adam J. Ensign and Zhuang Ying

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