Yixing pottery refers to the unique traditional stoneware made in Yixing, China. They are made from the reddish clay (zisha) found in Yixing area, usually unglazed to display the beauty of the shiny color of the clay. Most of them are teawares (called zisha teapots).
The history of Yixing pottery went way back at early Song and Ming dynasty (A.D. 960 -1505). The change in the way by which the tea is made in Ming dynasty introduced a fundamental revolution in the art of tea-tasting in China. People started to drink tea which is similar to the modern tea made from young leaves from tea trees. Because unglazed zisha teapots can keep the color and the fresh of the tea better and longer, also the rustic elegance in the shape and the natural shine in the colors is in accordance with the search for ideal of the beauty of the nature among scholars, zisha teapots has since experienced a rapid development and gained recognition in Chinese ceramics.
Ming and Qing dynasties are the most flourish time in the historical development of Yixing pottery, and can be divided into three separate periods as early, middle and later periods.
The early period starts from the beginning of 17th century to the beginning of 16th century (Zhende period to Wanli period in Ming dynasty). The styles of zisha teawares absorb the styles in the copperware and silverware, even the furniture style of the Ming dynasty. Most of them have the type called Jinwen (the body of teapot has vivid lines).
The middle period started from early 17th century to the middle of 18th century (corresponds to late Ming dynasty to middle Qing dynasty). Zisha ware reached its summit in this period; many famous potters were active during this time; numerous shapes were made; the most unique styles of zisha ware were developed.
The late period is from the late 18th century to the early 20th century (middle of Qing dynasty to late of Qing dynasty). With the more and more patronage and advocate from scholars, styles with geometric forms and carving inscription were very fashionable. In addition, the techniques of slip painting, enameling, carving etc. were applied to add more fun for scholastic interest.
Yixing zisha ware won numerous prizes from International trade exhibitions all over the world. The three zisha clay are purple clay, red clay and dark green clay. Zisha clay has an excellent plasticity which allows extensive freedom of creation, a small rate of contraction, good in proportions and in dimensions. After firing, the zisha teaware has an appropriate amount of air holes for ventilation such that the teapot can preserve the color, smell and taste of the tea. Also after frequent use and subsequent wiping, the teapot will acquire a natural shine as from pearl and jade stone.
Zisha ware has numerous styles all made by hand slab forming techniques. There are round style, angular geometric style, sculpture style, and teawares with vivid lines style.
There are also a variety of decoration methods for zisha ware. They can be made by clay mixed with grains, clay mixed with another different color clay, polishing etc. The surface embellishments involves glazing, carving, slip painting, enameling, applique and lacquer encasing. The most famous and the one which has the biggest influence lasted to today on the zisha history is the carving inscription of calligraphy and painting. This is a decoration to include the culture, calligraphy, carving and painting in the art of teapots, and was advocated by Hen Mansheng who was famous for calligraphy and seal engraving in Qing dynasty. This makes the zisha teaware having great artistic and culture values.
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