Feb 04, 2015

There is much confusion over the meaning of the terms doucai, wucai, famille-rose and enamel when referring to Chinese porcelain. In essence, all the terms above refer to a form of overglazed enameled ware that can be distinguished by their appearance. Here are some ways to determine whether a ware is doucai, wucai, famille-rose or enamel.

Doucai is a variety of decorative porcelain formed by the combination of underglaze blue-and-white and overglaze decoration. Before firing, the design's outline should be painted on the base with blue-and-white, then the painted base should be fired into blue-and-white porcelain, on which the blank of the previously-sketched pattern should be filled with paint in various colors. And then it should be fired again in a low-temperature kiln at about 800 degrees Celsius.

The firing of doucai porcelain dates back to the Chenghua Period of the Ming Dynasty, which is well-known for its doucai. A rare and fine Chenghua doucai chicken cup sold for record HK$281.24 million ($36 million) at a Hong Kong auction last year.

Wucai porcelain is a kind of overglaze decorative porcelain that is made by firing an already-fired plain base painted with a few colorful patterns in the kiln at 770 - 800 degrees Celsius. It features rich colors, such as red, yellow, green, blue and purple.

Wucai was a new variety of the Jingdezhen Kiln during the Ming and Qing dynasties. As blue paint did not exist in the Ming Dynasty, blue-and-white took its place when blue should be presented.

To distinguish doucai and wucai, the white and blue compose the main frame of doucai and the other colors are used to filled the blank areas, while wucai doesn’t have a design outline. The white and blue is painted on the base just the same as the other colors of red, yellow, green and so forth. In other words, the semi-finished doucai product is a white and blue ware, while the semi-finished wucai product is a ware with incomplete figures.

As the doucai and wucai have clear lines and the firing temperature is slightly higher than that of famille-rose and enamels, and the colors are not so soft, they are also called yingcai (literally, “hard color”) while the famile-rose and enamels are called ruancai (literally, “soft color”).

Famille-rose porcelain first came into being during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The main materials and techniques used to make the porcelain were introduced from abroad in the beginning. When making famille-rose porcelain, craftsmen fired opaque glass, which is a an opaque white enamel containing arsenic, onto plain porcelain, creating patterns with Chinese painting techniques and then baking it in a kiln.

Famille-rose porcelain ware in the Qing Dynasty mainly included items such as pots, bottles, wine vessels, jars, basins, plates, urns, boxes. The patterns mostly included dragons and phoenixes, flowers, landscapes, human figures and themes from legends. Subjects on the porcelain often came from paintings of famous painters at that time.

The enamel wares were initially imported from Europe but in the sixth year of Emperor Yongzheng (1728 A.D), the Chinese succeeded in producing the enamels and even added additional colors. Plain porcelain vessels were ordered from the Imperial kiln. The porcelain surface which required enameling is unglazed in biscuit form. After the vessel is decorated with enamels, it is fired in the Palace workshop.

Enamel ceramic pieces during the Qing period are rare and magnificent because they were produced under the close scrutiny of the emperor himself.

Both of the famille-rose and enamel acquire beautiful colors due to opaque glass. The shading effect, which gives perspective to a motif, is achieved by altering the ratio of colored enamels to this white enamel. There are some tips to distinguish the two kinds of porcelain.

1. Enamel features more color than famille-rose.

2. The patterns of enamel are painted in layers. We can feel the details when we touch the porcelain, while the appearance of famille-rose is flat and smooth.

3. The color of enamel is bright while the famille-rose is soft.

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