World Ceramics: How was it made?

These large earth spirits were made by pressing clay into molds. The figures were made in a two-part mold and then joined together with a clay SLIP at the arms and legs. The heads were made in a separate pair of molds and set into the bodies. The same general principles of construction were followed in making animals and large-scale figures such as these, although the number of molds required was greater. By using molds, Chinese potters were able to create large-scale, three-dimensional pieces that were hollow, which prevented them from exploding in the kiln during firing. Molds also permitted the potters to satisfy the substantial commercial demand for burial sculpture. All works still had to be finished by hand, however, which allowed for greater detail and individual expression despite the mass quantities made.

After the mold was completed, most tomb pieces, such as these earth spirits, were completely covered with a white slip. This process kept the iron content of the clay from discoloring the glazes, which were added next, and gave the colors a clearer, brighter quality. The colored glazes most often used were green, amber, and yellow, although the potter was not limited to these three colors, as these figures show. The colors were formed by adding iron, manganese, or copper to a clear lead glaze. Occasionally, rare and costly blue glazes were also applied. The blue coloring agent was cobalt, a highly sought-after import item first brought into China from the Middle East during this period. The scarcity of this fourth color suggests that it was usually reserved for the best and most striking pieces. The lavish use of the cobalt blue glaze on these figures indicates that they were commissioned by a wealthy family who could afford the rare and costly material. During the firing process, the lead glazes would run and streak, resulting in the luxuriously blended splashes and drips of color that typify T'ang ceramics.

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