In 2001 the J. Paul Getty Museum acquired a Chinese gilded porcelain teapot made between 1662 and 1690, in the Kangxi period (1662–1722). Finely worked European silver mounts encase this porcelain vessel, which is marked on its base with an artemisia leaf (fig. 1). The teapot exhibits two small but significant areas of damage, partially hidden by trellis work in the silver mounts. These suggest that the pot’s handle originally spanned the top of the vessel. Most likely deliberate, the removal of the handle has damaged the glaze: the surface has been ground away, revealing a white body. The silver replacement handle is now located at the side, opposite the spout.
The teapot’s rich blue speckled glaze has many names that describe either the way it was applied, its color, or both: “blown blue,” blue soufflé, fouette, the “Mazarin technique,” and ch’ui ch’ing. This method of glaze application, by no means restricted to the color blue, was described by T’ang Ying, a director of the imperial porcelain manufacture at Jingdezhen in the mid-eighteenth century—or about fifty years after the creation of the Getty teapot:
A bamboo tube one inch in diameter and some seven inches long has one of its ends bound round with a fine gauze, which is dipped repeatedly into the glaze and blown through from the other end. The number of times that this process has to be repeated depends partly on the size of the piece, partly on the nature of the glaze, varying from three or four times up to seventeen or eighteen.
In the case of the Getty teapot, the “blown blue” glaze was further decorated with gilding. Not surprisingly, it is in very poor condition, and worn away where it was not protected by the silver mounts (fig. 2). While this is typical of many surviving Kangxi gilded vessels, a well-preserved, gilded porcelain brush holder of the same date, from the collection of Augustus the Strong, is a fortunate anomaly.
Although only traces of the gilding survive, the teapot’s original appearance can be reconstructed. Areas that were once gilded can be distinguished, with some diYculty, from areas that were never gilded. The former appear matte, which evidently is linked to the method of gilding as described below. Unfortunately, photography of these areas is made nearly impossible by the vessel’s shape and highly reflective glaze. A quarter of the gilded design was re-created by manipulating a digital image (fig. 3).
Analysis of the Gilding
The teapot’s gilding was analyzed using Quantitative X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) analysis. Two areas were tested: a gilded area and a matte area, or an area from which the gilding has disappeared. The results of the XRF analysis showed that, as expected, most of the gilding is composed of gold (table 1). Unexpected, however, were the lead counts: the results indicate that there is about twice as much lead in the gilded area as in the matte area.
Results of XRF analysis: figures are given in counts/sec
Père d’Entrecolles, a Jesuit priest who was stationed in China in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, described in detail a gilding process he witnessed in the ceramic factories of Jingdezhen. It should be noted here that while some of the minutiae of the priest’s accounts are clearly wrong, much of the information he relayed appears trustworthy.
In a letter sent on September 1, 1712, from Jao-chou, Kangxi province, the Jesuit priest describes the sequence of decoration, firing, and applying overglaze gilding in the manufacture of porcelain. After an initial firing, gilding was put on the surface of the porcelain, which was then refired in a special furnace. Père d’Entrecolles then outlines how the gold and white lead mixture was prepared and applied:
When one wishes to apply gold, one grinds it and one mixes it in the bottom of a porcelain vessel until one sees a little cloud of gold in the bottom of the water. One allows it to dry and then uses it by mixing it in a suYcient amount of gummed water. With thirty parts of gold one incorporates three parts of white lead, and then one applies it to porcelain just like a colored glaze.
Evidently, the lead white or ceruse was employed as a ux to lower the much higher melting point of the gold. As indicated in d’Entrecolles’s letter, this use of lead white is undoubtedly related to its use, together with gum water, in the preparation of overglaze, fired-on enamel colors in Jingdezhen, described elsewhere and in greater detail by d’Entrecolles.
While the results of the XRF analysis of the matte areas on the Getty teapot indicate that lead, the metal with the lower melting point, is still on the surface, or shallowly embedded therein, its presence may not be exclusively responsible for the matte appearance of the glaze. Recently published is an account of fired-on gilding from a probably much earlier date, discovered on a Northern Song stoneware, a conical bowl with russet glaze. As in the case of the Getty teapot, examination revealed patterns of “ghosts” in areas believed to have been gilded on the interior of the eleventh-century vessel. The “ghosts” seem to be permanently fixed in the glaze. Subtle clues in the appearance of the matte areas led the investigators to believe that delicate patterns cut out of gold leaf, backed with a textile, were bonded to the ceramic before firing with an unidentified adhesive. While the authors admit there is no way to know whether garlic juice, as described in the writings of the late Song literatus Zhou Mi (1232–1298), was used in the preparation of the gold, they do believe that the gilding was fired in place, as Zhou Mi’s accounts also suggest.
Identified with XRF analysis, the presence of lead in the gilding of the Getty teapot is corroborated by Père d’Entrecolles’s accounts of porcelain manufacture in Jingdezhen in the early eighteenth century. While the presence of lead may be at least partially responsible for the appearance of the matte areas on the surface of the glaze, it must be stressed that similar matte patterns also appear to have been caused by a very diVerent, lead-free gilding process. Further research might determine whether matte patterns or “ghosts” on Chinese glazes can be reliably linked to fired-on gilding processes, regardless of gilding composition or method of application.
This research was carried out while I was a graduate intern in the department of Decorative Art and Sculpture Conservation at the J. Paul Getty Museum. For their support I would like to thank Brian Considine and Jane Bassett of the department of Decorative Arts and Sculpture Conservation; curator Gillian Wilson and associate curator JeVrey Weaver at the J. Paul Getty Museum; as well as senior scientist Dr. David Scott and graduate intern Satoko Tanimoto, both formerly of the Getty Conservation Institute’s Museum Research Lab. I would also like to extend gratitude to the Curator of Chinese Art, Robert D. Mowry, and assistant Adam Osgood for allowing me to examine the bowl in the collection of the Arthur M. Sackler Museum.
Sherman Fairchild Fellow in Objects Conservation
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Gilded teapot, China, 1662– 1690. Porcelain. H. 6". The vessel is fitted with European silver mounts. (Courtesy, J. Paul Getty Museum; acc. no. 2001.76.)
Detail of the teapot illustrated in fig. 1, showing traces of gilding protected by the teapot’s silver mounts. (Photo, Lisa Ellis.)
Digital reconstruction of a gilded area on the teapot illustrated in fig. 1.
For a well-documented and illustrated example of a similar case, please see the description of a mounted Kangxi porcelain vessel, also in the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, from which the spout, handle, and finial were removed in the eighteenth century to accommodate French gilt bronze mounts. F.J.B. Watson and G. Wilson, Mounted Oriental Porcelain in the J. Paul Getty Museum (Santa Monica, Calif.: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1982), pp. 74–76, no. 16.
See “Dipping into the Glaze and Blowing on the Glaze,” in Robert Tichane, Ching-te-chen: Views of a Porcelain City (Painted Post, N.Y.: New York State Institute for Glaze Research, 1983), p. 156, no. 13, ill.
See Eva Ströber, “La Maladie de Porcelaine”: East Asian Porcelain from the Collection of Augustus the Strong, exh. cat., Albertinum Dresden (Berlin: Edition Leipzig, 2001), no. 44.
X-ray fluorescence is a nondestructive analytical technique in which the elements present on an object’s surface are detected using X rays. The analysis was carried out in the J. Paul Getty Museum Research Laboratory using a Kevex 0750A instrument, set at 50 kV, 3.3 mA, with a Ba/Sr secondary target and collimators of 3 mm on the X-ray tube and 4 mm on the detector of 200 seconds acquisition time. As there was no standard with which to compare, the readings of the gilded and ungilded ceramic were not normalized. The spectra were acquired by Satoko Tanimoto under the direction of Dr. David Scott, Senior Scientist, Museum Research Laboratory, Getty Conservation Institute. For a description of the analysis of silver embellishment on Chinese export wares, see Shirley Maloney Mueller, “Surface Silver Decoration on Chinese Export Porcelain: An Analytic Approach,” Oriental Art 48, no. 4 (2002): 43–46.
In d’Entrecolles’s own words, “on cuit la porcelaine; apres quoy on y applique l’or, & on la recuit de nouveau dans un forneau particulier”; Stephen W. Bushell, Description of Chinese Pottery and Porcelain (Oxford, Eng.: Clarendon Press, 1910), p. 195.
Ibid. The French text reads: “Quand on veut appliquer l’or, on le broye, & on le dissoud au fond d’une porcelaine, jusqu’à ce qu’on voye au dessous de l’eau un petit ciel d’or. On le laisse secher, & lorsqu’on doit l’employer, on le dissoud par partie dans une quantité suYsante d’eau gommée: avec trente parties d’or on incorpore trois parties de ceruse, & on applique sur la porcelaine de mesme que les couleurs”; Tichane, Ching-te-chen, pp. 83–84.
Tichane, Ching-te-chen, p. 81.
The bowl is in the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Harvard University Art Museums (acc. no. 1919.207). See Robert D. Mowry, Hare’s Fur, Tortoiseshell, and Partridge Feathers: Chinese Brown- and Black-Glazed Ceramics, 400–1400, exh. cat. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Art Museums, 1996), pp. 108–10, no. 15.
After examination, conservators washed these areas with purified water and conservation grade detergent, and applied an impermanent coating in acetone for research purposes without damaging the “ghosts.” Earl S. Tai, “Analysis of a Sung Ceramic Bowl” (unpublished research paper for Fine Arts 202, Harvard University, fall 1990), unpaginated.