Crackle Porcelain

Crackle porcelain is one of the most peculiar productions of the art of the Chinese potter, and has not been successfully imitated elsewhere. Occasionally European pieces assume a crackled appearance; but this has not been intentionally produced and has been subsequent to the baking. There is a considerable variety in the colored glazes which are thus crackled. Some colors, such as turquoise blue and apple green, seem nearly always to assume a crackled appearance ; others, such as the reds, are rarely affected. The color chiefly selected is a grayish white; the forms are archaic, and with ornaments in dark brown, occasionally gilt. The crackled appearance, though now always artificial, owes doubtless its origin in the first instance to accident, and at an early period.

Some of the vases of the Tsong dynasty (A. D. 960–1270) are noticed as being crackled. The productions of the two brothers Tchang, who lived under that dynasty, were distinguished by one being crackled and the other not. Crackled vases were called Tsui-khi-yao under the southern Tsung dynasty (1127–1279), and are thus de-scribed in the History of King-te-tching : ” The clay employed was coarse and compact, the, vases were thick and heavy, some were of a rice white, others pale blue. They used to take some Hoa-chi (steatite), powder it, and mix it with the glaze. The vases exhibited cracks running in every direction, as though broken into a thousand pieces. The cracks were rubbed over with Indian ink or a red color, and the superfluity removed. Then was seen a network of charming veins, red or black, imitating the cracks of ice. There were also vases on which blue flowers were painted on the crackled ground.”

A different mode of making the crackles is described in another Chinese work, and is as follows : ” After covering the vases with glaze, they are exposed to a very hot sun, and when they have become hot they are plunged into cold water for a moment. On being baked they appear covered with innumerable cracks.” The way in which the size of the crackle is regulated seems to be indicated in one of the receipts for making crackle vases, given in the History of King-te-tching, from which we learn that the material of the glaze was to be finely or coarsely washed, according to the size of the crackle required.

We have given considerable space to the translations from Pere d’Entrecolles and Stanislas Julien, because they are almost the only authorities we have on Chinese porcelain who compiled from personal observation. Moreover, the letters of d’Entrecolles were of great value to the tentative efforts being made for the production of porcelain in Europe at the time they were written, and his words and the specimens he sent home were among the leading causes of European success. The translations of Stanislas Julien, from Chinese documents, contain a large amount of information, which we have not as yet the means of understanding or verifying. Each year of our intercourse with China, however, adds to our knowledge, and brings us new examples which are described in this work, and thus increases its value as a text-book.