Tag Archives: Chinese porcelain

The translucence of porcelain rice grain ware

Bluish white porcelain with translucent spots the size and shape of a grain of rice. Clear glaze with light blue or bright cobalt accents. The first time I saw rice grain ware was in Montana in the form of a teapot. It was beautiful and exotic. I couldn’t figure out how it was made. If you hold it up to the light you can see through the tiny spots. I’ve read some sources that said it was made by inserting little grains of rice in the walls of a porcelain vessel. After glazing, the rice evidently burned out during firing, so all that was left was the translucent glazed area. As it turns out, it is created much more simply. No rice is used at all, states Jan-Erik Nilsson Gothenburg on his Gotheborg site. This makes sense because, as another source pointed out, the rice would expand by absorbing moisture from the clay as it dried, thereby growing in size. This would cause the vessel to crack before bisque firing. “‘Rice grain’ is a name of a technique rather than actual rice grains,”  according to Gothenburg.  “To make this kind of decoration the holes are pierced through the rather thick walls of the rough and unfired porcelain and the holes are then filled with translucent glaze.” Interestingly, the porcelain vessel is initially quite thick. After the holes are made, then filled with the glaze and dried, the potter reworks the vessel.  This is done by thinning the walls without compromising the integrity of the vessel. Surely this must not be how they are all made, however. It seems there must be a big market for slip cast rice grain ware, considering the amount that is sold. Pieces made the traditional way must be wafer thin. “The highly skilled potters, who are usually young women, after what I saw when I visited a factory for this kind of porcelain in Jingdezhen in the 1990’s – are judging the thickness of the walls and the work progress by the sound of the paring knife against the unfired clay,” writes Gothenburg. He says the technique came to China via Turkey in the 14th century. Another style of pottery is made when the holes aren’t filled with glaze. This linglung work creates a lattice effect. These techniques are much older than I realized and the oldest pieces are quite collectible. I myself have a modern rice grain ware teapot. Such porcelain is common and inexpensive in Metro Vancouver, so my take on it is that the finer pieces are pared thin by hand but, others, like my teapot, are slipcast. It is no less appreciated, though. The translucency makes it appeared delicate and the cobalt blue decorations enhance the whiteness of the porcelain. These pieces are truly beautiful.


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Jonathan Gash’s Lovejoy on porcelain

“Porcelain is a world of history. From porca, Latin for sow, since it suggested pigskin. The stuff itself’s quite simple – mix the right sort of clay with a fusible feldspathic rock, shape it, bake it in a kiln. The Chinese began it in the eighth century, and perfected it with their usual brilliance in the Middle Ages. China’s original clay is the plasticky kaolin. The rock was called ‘petuntse’ by the French missionaries. This ‘true’ porcelain was the genuine stuff. It came first to Germany’s Meissen, then Vienna about 1720-ish. Nearly fifty years later, the great names of France and England got going, and porcelain was king. We English copied the Chinese porcelain, from the 1740s on, by mixing ‘frit’ – glassy bits fused with lime or plain chalk. This made a ‘soft’ porcelain. There were other ‘soft’ porcelains – Bow and Chelsea and Liverpool – made with calcined bone chucked in. Soft-paste porcelains I always think are merely beginners’ tries. Real porcelain is the hard Chinese type, white, translucent, and lovely. One annoying fad is to speak with bated breath of ‘bone china,’ brought out by Josiah Spode in 1794, but it’s only hard porcelain formula with added bones. Purists regard it with contempt as an in-between.”

— from A Rag, a Bone and a Hank of Hair, by Jonathan Gash, the twenty-first Lovejoy novel

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