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Zangzhou Ceramics, Ming Dynasty

Formerly known as Swatow Wares….

A selection of Zangzhou pieces, either from the Binh Thuan wreck (1608) or of the exact type recovered from it in 2002.

Zangzhou (Changchow) is a major production centre for this type of distinct porcelain body, and appears to have been focused on the export market to South-East Asia in the 16th-17th century. Older literature discusses them as ‘Swatow’ or  ‘Provincial’ Ming, but excavations in the 1950’s in Fujian Provence located numerous ceramic production centres, with Zangzhou on the Jiulong River giving the name to this category of ceramics.

The wares are varied, with blue & white, celadon, and polychrome enamels all appearing. The best way to examine the product is through the Binh Thuan Shipwreck, which was filled with tens of thousands of pieces from this source. This ship went down in circa 1608, and contained a large number of blue & white pieces, as well as enamelled wares and pieces with blue underglaze and enamelled colours overglaze. This rarely survives in good condition as it is vulnerable to wear, especially in the context of a shipwreck….

Fragile onlgaze colours on Zangzhou porcelain – the bowls at the back were once decorated like the rare example in the foreground, all from the Binh Thuan Shipwreck (1608), but seawater wears it off…. the example at the right has never been under the sea.

One way to recognise this product is through the firing technique; dishes & bowls were placed onto rough granitic sand, which allowed the pot to be safely removed from the kiln without sticking. In the shipwreck examples, this still survives in its original extent; in pieces that made it to market, this has been carefully removed prior to sale as it is extremely sharp!

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