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Glossary of Chinese ceramics: sancai

2 January, 2008 (05:00) | ceramics/metal/stone, china, medieval, modern | By: xensen

sancai plate

Sancai wares were low-fired lead-glazed ceramics with color decorations. The colors were mixed to produce a great variety of shades. According to He Li, the colors and decorative patterns of sancai ware were influenced by Central Asian textiles.

Sancai literally means “three colors,” just as wancai, the last glaze we looked at, means “five colors.” As in the case of wancai, however, the term should not be understood literally – three-color sancai do predominate, but two- and four-color glazes may also be termed sancai. Common colors were green, yellow, and white, and common coloring agents were iron, copper, and manganese compounds. Sancai wares were first fired at 1000ºC., and then refired with the glaze at about 900ºC. Sometimes a white slip was applied before the decorations were added in order to produce clearer final result.

Sancai is usually associated with Tang dynasty wares, but the technique was equally popular during the Song. The style spread west along the Silk Road and east to Korea and Japan. In China it enjoyed a revival during the Ming dynasty.

Sancai was employed in animal forms (especially camels, horses, and dogs), often created as funerary pieces, as well as various types of vessels and other articles of daily use. Objects such as alms bowls, incense burners, and candlestick holders probably had ceremonial uses. Sancai wares were also popular trade and tribute items.

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Shown: Sancai Plate, 907-1125, Manchuria, Khitan Liao Dynasty, Musée Guimet (via wikipedia)

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