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The Making of Northern Song Dynasty Ceramics

Recreating production of Ru ware

Recreating production of Ru wares. Photo by B. Hogarth, 2005.

Recreating production of Ru wares

Recreating production of Ru wares. Photo by B. Hogarth, 2005.

Recreating production of Ru wares

Recreating production of Ru wares. Photo by B. Hogarth, 2005.

Recreating production of Ru wares

Recreating production of Ru wares. Photo by B. Hogarth, 2005.

Recreating production of Ru wares

Recreating production of Ru wares. Photo by B. Hogarth, 2005.

What is shown here?
This is a sequence of photos taken at the conservation studios at the National Palace Museum in Taipei. The ceramicist is demonstrating the steps in making a ru ware of the type produced during the Northern Song.

The potter has already prepared the clay by removing air bubbles and is shown forming the vessel on the wheel. The vessel is initially potted fairly thickly and then manipulated into its final shape. Part of the process involves inverting the pot and gradually shaving down the walls to the desired thickness. Glaze is applied first by dipping the pot in a wet glaze mixture, and then spraying further layers on. In a modern setting, a gas kiln is used, as opposed to the wood or coal-fired kilns of the Song dynasty. Original ru wares were fired in mantou-shaped kilns at a temperature of between 1220–1240 C°. The final photograph shows several finished pieces that resemble the original ru ware. The few surviving ru ware pieces are found in collections on mainland China and at the National Palace Museum in Taipei, with a few additional pieces in London.

What was ru ware and why is it important?
Less than a hundred ru ware pieces have survived from the Northern Song dynasty. They were already rare by the time of the Southern Song. Ru wares were commissioned by a single emperor— Huizong of the Northern Song (reigned 1101–1125) for exclusive use at court. In addition to their rarity, ru wares are also famous for their small, elegant shapes with restrained glazes. The body was described as having the color of incense ash, and the glaze a sky-blue color. Small crackle patterns on the glaze were described as “crab’s claw” or “ice-crackle."

The origin and production of ru wares were still somewhat mysterious until remains of a kiln site were identified in Henan province in 1986, followed by additional discoveries in 2000. They remain among the rarest, most beautiful, and sought after of the Song ceramics.