Legacy of Jingjiang Princes: Prunus Vases of Ming Dynasty Unearthed in Guilin
Porcelain is a great invention of China. Boasting long history, exquisite craftsmanship, elegant appearance, sound applicability, rich connotation, it exerts profound influence and makes extraordinary contribution to the development of human civilization. In the history of Chinese ceramics, prunus vase is well reputed with its unique charm.
Boasting remarkably great number and unbelievably varied types, Ming prunus vases unearthed from Mausoleum of Jingjiang Princes in Guilin draw tremendous attention and get the fame "hometown of prunus vases and a wonder of Guilin". Guilin Museum has an unparalleled collection of over 300 prunus vases of Ming dynasty, some of which are supremely exquisite and rarely seen. The great artistic level, cultural significance and academic value are precious cultural legacy of Guilin and rare material for the study of the ancient prunus vase culture. Ming prunus vases collected by Guilin Museum, featuring varied modeling and brilliant glaze, were fired in various periods during Ming dynasty, involving 12 shapes and 15 glaze colors. The ornamentation boasts rich variety and involves 30 designs of 5 categories: dragon design; phoenix design; dragon and phoenix design; flower, bird, fish and waterfowl design; and figure design. These prunus vases are a special branch of Chinese ceramics and an important component of Chinese culture heritage. As the only theme exhibition of Ming prunus vases in the world, Guilin Museum's exhibition of Ming prunus vases reflects the social, political, economic and cultural epitome of Ming dynasty from the historical, artistic and aesthetic perspectives, presents the charm of ancient Chinese ceramic culture, and shows the profound cultural and historical connotations of Guilin. It will play an active role in promoting the economic and cultural development of Guilin.
Unit 1 Background of Prunus Vases Unearthed in Guilin
Jingjiang is one of the ten fiefs conferred by Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang in 3rd year of Hongwu reign (A.D.1370). It lasted for more than 280 years with 11 generations of sons and 14 princes, and perished in November of 7th year of Shunzhi reign of Qing dynasty (A.D.1650). The first Jingjiang Prince Zhu Shouqian died in the prison of the capital and was buried in Nanjing. Owing to the warfare, the whereabouts of 13th and 14th Jingjiang Princes Zhu Hengjia and Zhu Hengyan remained unknown. The rest 11 Jingjiang Princes and their imperial clans were buried along Yao Mountainin the eastern suburb of Guilin. A huge mausoleum centering around Yao Mountain was thus formed, covering an area of over 100 km2, hence the name "No. 1 mausoleum of Lingnan". In the mausoleum, there are still 300 tombs of different sizes kept intact. Besides the prunus vases collected by Guilin Museum which were mostly unearthed from Mausoleum of Jingjiang Princes in the eastern suburb of Guilin, there are still many unearthed prunus vases lost among the folk or even abroad.
Unit 2 Introduction of Prunus Vases
Prunus vase, as a multi-functional vessel for storing wine, exhibition and decoration, was first seen in Tang dynasty. It got popular in Song dynasty and was flourishing in Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, with the mass firing of Jingdezhen blue-and-white porcelain. Despite the modeling disparity during different periods, the vase plum generally keeps the basic features of short and narrow neck, narrow mouth, broad shoulder, round belly, wasp waist, and thin shin. The term "prunus vase" appeared no late than Kangxi reign of Qing dynasty. The illustration of the term can be traced back to the early years of the Republic of China (A.D.1912—1949). One version comes from Recounting Porcelain in Yin Liu Zhai written by XuZhiheng of the Republic of China:"The diameter of the mouth is so small that it could only been compared with thin branch of prunus mume, and hence the name of prunus vase." It implies that only thin, slender prunus branch could be inserted inside the vase. According to the other version, prunus vase got its name for it was often used to store wine made of prunes.The first version gets more acceptance.
Unit 3 Glaze Colors of Prunus Vases
As a traditional style of vases, prunus vase features rich glaze color and is fired in many kilns during different periods since its first burning. Ming prunus vases boast plentiful glaze colors of over 20 types. Those collected by Guilin Museum involve 15 types of glaze, including plain pottery, black glaze,white glaze, crackled glaze (Ge type), blue-and-white crackled glaze, crackled glazed(Ge type) with ochre coloring and white powder, blue-and-white crackled glazed(Ge type) with ochre coloring and white powder, polychrome crackled glazed(Ge type), blue glaze with white design, brown glaze with white design, peacock-blue glaze with black design, Fahua color, yellow glaze, green glaze, blue-and-white, reflecting the beauty of the glaze of prunus vases.
Unit 4 Modeling of Prunus Vases
Prunus vases are usually characterized by narrow mouth, short neck, broad shoulder, and round belly, yet the specific modeling has a variety of types. Based on the feature of mouth, neck, waist and belly, the modelings of Ming prunus vases can be divided into twelve types, namely, beauty’s shoulder-shaped, thick body with lipped-mouth, wide mouth and high shin, trapezoidal mouth, straight narrow mouth, wide mouth and thick neck, long neck, oblique belly, swelling-belly, contractive-waist, thin waist, chicken leg-shaped prunus vases.
Unit 5 Decorative Designs of Prunus Vases
The decorative designs of blue-and-white prunus vases in Ming dynasty are mostly of four-layers or above horizontal belt type layout with rich contents. The thematic decorative designs cover varied subjects, including thirty kinds of five big categories, namely, dragon design, phoenix design, dragon and phoenix design, design of flowers, birds, fish and waterfowl, and of figures. With varied modelings, the designs are full of fascinating appeal. Some are drawn from the ancient myths and legends, some from historical allusions, while some based on reality. Whether concise freehand or meticulous portrayal, they all feature careful composition and exquisite brushwork. Not a few designs entail positive life philosophy, reflect profound Chinese traditional culture, embody people's spiritual sustenance and pursuit of better life. Therefore, they are of great social significance.