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Ding (Ting) ware

Ding ware was produced in Ding Xian (modern Chu-yang), Hebei Province, slightly south-west of Beijing. Already in production when the Song emperors came to power in 940, Ding ware was the finest porcelain produced in northern China at the time, and was the first to enter the palace for official imperial use. Its paste is white, generally covered with an almost transparent glaze that dripped and collected in "tears," (though some Ding ware was glazed a monochrome black or brown, white was the much more common type).

Overall, the Ding aesthetic relied more on its elegant shape than ostentatious decoration; designs were understated, either incised or stamped into the clay prior to glazing. Due to the way the dishes were stacked in the kiln, the edged remained unglazed, and had to be rimmed in metal such as gold or silver when used as tableware. Some hundred years later, a Southern Song era writer commented that it was this defect that led to its demise as favored imperial ware. Since the Song court lost access to these northern kilns when they fled south, it has been argued that Qingbai ware was viewed as a replacement for Ding.

Ding wares were fired in kilns known either as mantou kilns (饅頭窯 bread bun kilns) or horse-shoe shaped kilns. These kilns were typical of north China in the Song dynasty and were cross-draught kilns capable of achieving the high temperatures - in the region of 1300 oC - needed to fire the high alumina Ding ware clay successfully.

The disadvantage of the mantou kilns was that they had a relatively small firing chamber, while the refined Ding white vessels needed to be protected from kiln debris by being placed in saggars (fire clay boxes), which took up additional space within the kiln. In order to allow the firing of more than one vessel within a single saggar, without leaving a disfiguring mark on either vessel, stepped setters and 'L'-shaped ring setters were developed. The Ding wares could then be fired using the fushao 覆焼 upside-down method, in which the mouth rim of the vessel was wiped clean of glaze and it was fired upside-down, standing on its mouth rim. Thus, pieces of ascending size could be fired on a stepped setter, while dishes of the same size could be fired in the 'L'-shaped ring setters. Kiln implements of both this kind are found in the Hutian area just next to Jingdezhen all but proving a transfer of knowledge to the South.

This white northern Song dynasty ware is characterized by its ivory tone, elegant forms and thin walls. It was made at the Ding kilns in the Hebei Province and reached its high point during the eleventh century. Ding wares are the best of the Song dynasty white wares. It features mold-impressed and incised floral designs on high-fired, grey-bodied ware covered over with ivory-white slips and clear glazes.

Numerous kilns in the North and South imitated Ding ware. The Ding potters developed a new technique of stacking vessels during firing to increase output and avoid warping. Ting bowls were usually fired on their unglazed mouth requiring their bare rims to be capped with metal bands.

Ding ware is among the most refined of Song wares. These subtle, beautifully potted, vessels can be plain or decorated with free-flowing hand carved design as well as intricate mold-impressed decoration. There is literary evidence that Ting ware was among those ceramics supplied to the Northern Sung (960-1127) court.

The thinness resulting in unusually light pieces. Connoisseurs have long recognized that runs of glaze, which they termed "tear-drops", characteristically appear on the exteriors of Ding vessels. Composed almost entirely of kaolin (China clay), the bodies of Ding vessels are only slightly translucent, transmitting a warm orange light if they transmit light at all. Because the potters grasped the bowls very tightly to dip them in the glaze slurry, genuine Ding bowls almost always have fingernail impressions on the exterior walls of their foot rims, as well as fingerprint interruptions in the surrounding glaze.

Made in Dingzhou in western central Hebei province, Ding ware was ranked among the "five great wares of the Song", along with Jun. Ru, Guan and Ge ware. Ding wares which was fired upside down leaving the rim bare of glaze was the favored imperial ware during Northern Song dynasty in the late tenth, eleventh and early twelfth centuries until it was replaced by the Celadon colored Ru ware from the kilns of Ru-zhou.

Much of the later Ding ware was made by a combination of throwing and moulding, usually by firmly beating thickly-thrown leather hard dishes and bowls onto convex pottery moulds. The backs of the bowls, dishes and plates were then turned down to a fine thinness, with their feet sometimes finished with a hand-held profile in a way that anticipated modern jiggering.

The molded designs seen on late Northern Song and Jin dynasty Ding wares are particularly fine. Not only is the body material of the vessels themselves very fine-grained, but the molds made to decorate them were also made of similarly fine-grained clay. This material allowed very precise cutting of the intaglio design into the surface of the mold. It was, however, the skill of the mold makers at the Ding kilns that produced the careful and minute modulation of the design that would appear in low relief on the surface of the finished Ding vessel. The fact that the molds were fired only to a low temperature, and were still very porous when used, allowed them to draw water from the clay of the damp vessels pressed onto them, facilitating the more precise impression.

Silver vessels influenced both the shape and designs of several types of Northern Sung (960-1127) and Chin (1115-1234) white wares.