Porcelain and the Material Culture of the Mongol-Yuan Court

in Journal of Early Modern History
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Abstract

This paper offers a re-evaluation of the significance of porcelain during the Yuan dynasty by analyzing a type of ceramics known as luanbai or shufu wares. These matt white porcelains, sometimes inscribed with the characters shu and fu, have generally been seen as official wares, manufactured on the orders of the highest echelons of the Yuan central government and classified as high-quality luxury wares associated with the imperial court. This paper proposes that this conventional interpretation is misleading. Instead of understanding luanbai wares as part of the narrative of ceramics manufacture and the history of porcelain, I explore their relevance by situating them in the context of Yuan-dynasty material culture more broadly, court-sponsored craft manufactures, and the practice of inscribing objects. This approach reveals a different story, highlighting the absence of court control over ceramic production, the ensuing freedom to experiment locally with new ceramic production methods, and the significance of the demands of consumers in territories outside Yuan China.

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References
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Figures
  • View in gallery
    Porcelain dish with luanbai glaze, molded design, and shufu characters, 1930,0217.1. China, Jingdezhen kilns. Yuan dynasty, c. 1280-1368. D 13.3 cm, H 4 cm. © Trustees of the British Museum.
  • View in gallery
    Porcelain dish with molded lotus design and luanbai glaze, showing the character fu, FE.49-1983. China, Jingdezhen kilns. Yuan dynasty, c. 1300-1350. D 18.4 cm, H 4.7 cm. Courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.
  • View in gallery
    Line-drawing of a porcelain dish with molded design and luanbai glaze, showing the characters shu and fu. China, Jingdezhen kilns. Yuan dynasty, c. 1280-1368. D 13.3 cm, H 4 cm. The drawing by Ann Searight appears in Jessica Harrison-Hall, Catalogue of Late Yuan and Ming Ceramics in the British Museum (London, 2001), 64. © Trustees of the British Museum
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