Porcelain Art
Archie Modequillo (The Freeman) - October 17, 2019 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines — These days the mere mention of the word “porcelain” readily evokes images smoothness, lightness and translucence. Smooth, fine skin quality is often likened to porcelain – along with translucent appearance. Among Filipinos, one who has “kutis porselana” is a real standout.

Porcelain is a unique ceramic material made by heating kaolin clay in a kiln at very high temperatures. The process causes the formation of mineral mullite; and the vitrification produces a toughness, strength, and translucence quite unique to porcelain, as compared to other types of pottery. Porcelain come in three main types of categories: hard-paste, soft-paste and bone china, depending on the composition of the paste used to make the body of the porcelain object and the ‘firing’ conditions it had been subjected to.

The name “porcelain” in English comes from the old Italian word “porcellana” for cowrie shell, because of its resemblance to the smooth surface of the shell. It is also widely referred to as china or fine china, as porcelain items originally came from China. In all its history, porcelain has always been a most prestigious type of pottery.

Porcelain-making is traced to have slowly evolved in China and became finally developed around 2,000 to 1,200 years ago. The early ceramics of the Shang Dynasty, beginning in 1600 BC, gave rise to the more refined porcelain-type ceramics of the Han Dynasty, around 206 BC. During Song Dynasty, during the 960s, porcelain was widely revered as an art form, mainly by way of prints on pots and decorative items.

Porcelain-making – and the corresponding porcelain art – had then spread widely to the rest of the world, first to other East Asian countries and then to Europe and elsewhere. Once the porcelain production techniques had reached other shores, porcelain began to be made in many parts of the world where it took on nuances of the producing culture.  In 1712, a French Jesuit began to produce the ceramic in bulks in Europe.  Toward the end of that century, porcelain-making had reached England where manufacturers began to put their own stamp on the art as evidenced by the invention of bone china, which employed different ingredients in the process.

The evolution of porcelain from functional and practical items – like pottery and tableware – into an art medium has tremendously increased its perceived value, not as raw material but as finished art works. In art, porcelain has taken on some sense of ‘sophistication’. There are now sculptures made of porcelain, the most common of which are porcelain figurines.  

The qualities of porcelain that attract sculptors are its delicacy, strength, and special white color. It combines well with both glazes and paint, and can be modeled very well, allowing for a wide range of creative possibilities.

Porcelain art, in general, are often noted for their artistic and historical qualities. Ming Dynasty porcelains, for instance, are deemed incalculably valuable and sought after by museums and private art collectors around the world. Aside from historical value, the appeal of a porcelain art work may come from the item’s shape, the glazing, or often the painted decoration.  Some celebrated Chinese porcelains today still include the classic blue-on-white designs of the Ming period or the incredibly intricate details such as a dragon spout on a teapot.

Of course, one of the defining features of porcelain, whether produced during centuries past or today, is that these items were once mostly associated with functionality – teapot, teacup, or plate. That value (functionality), however, has blurred as other materials are found more practical for the purpose. Today, the artistic and historical values of porcelain pieces have become their main appeal.

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