The stunning decorative porcelains from the Chianlung period show at the National Palace Museum (here) is a chance to a) see old friends, b) see their never before seen friends (who chill their heels in cool dark of the museum storage caverns), c) learn that some friends have twins (having been executed in pairs; sometimes quartets; the NPM has at least two of these, for instance), and above all d) learn that one may go round the world to see everything it has to offer and in the end decide that what he still likes best what he had liked in the beginning.
It is also a chance to learn, thanks to a great educational video -- part of the show -- the 12 step production process:
1. Throw the piece on wheel using wet clay. This produces a surprisingly rough-hewn, fat, lumpy object. In fact, it looks surprisingly like the sort of stuff your friends throw in their weekend pottery class.
2. Let it dry and then carve and grind it (yes!) into final shape. This is what produces the extra-fine, thin walls and elegant shapes. The connoisseur's expression "well potted" does not mean "well-thrown", it means well well carved!
3. Paint the reign mark on the foot of the object.
4. Apply white glaze. (Spray).
5. Let dry and load in the furnace.
6. Fire. (The glaze turns clear, leaving a shiny white body with a clear reign mark).
7. Draw the decor design using charcoal.
8. Apply color glaze and let dry. (The decor design remains visible through the partly transparent glaze).
9. Carve the dry color glaze. There are two options: 1. carve all the way through to the (previously fired) clear gaze underneath. This leaves flat areas which can be painted in later. These will be the roundels for landscape or figurative scenes; or the scrolling colored leaves and flowers. Or 2. carve half-deep. This leaves a fine, barely impressed, somewhat lighter in color barely perceptible pattern which looks like -- well, brocade. (Magnify the two purple objects beneath to see the pattern within the purple "background").
10. Fire to fix the color glaze.
11. Paint the decorative elements (color flowers, landscapes, figurative elements).
12. Fire again to fix the painted decorations.
(The high rates of breakage and failure at every step make flawless pieces literally unique).
Some objects are decorated without the scrolling brocade pattern.
Here is a pair of dishes, top (enamel painting on white glaze) and bottom (brocade pattern yellow with painted scrolling flowers).
The quality of the miniature painting on these pieces is stunning. Enlarge yourself:
Having seen so much pottery everywhere in the world, I remain helpless slave of the detail, technical mastery and rich color of Qing fencai pieces.
In which I am, I suppose, like Ibn Battuta of Tangier, who, having traveled half the world, returned home and for the next 30 years, until his dying day, never left the city of his birth again.
PS. The video and the objects used in its production (and now part of the display at the show) suggest that someone still commands this technique. This could be the Jia Yang Company, of Jing de Zhen, listed in the credits. It has no internet presence.