Form and Function, Song Dynasty Celadon Teacups

When I first started collecting antiques, I had often asked why after a few hundred years the objects still looked clean and beautiful, not dirty and old looking. The answer I received was that the antiques that were good, that were well made, weren't easily affected by time.

The celadon teacups from the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) show timeless elegance and artistic beauty. They were also made with the idea that they would be used with proper and perfect etiquette. The rim is much like an open lotus flower, to better provide a holding grip, while the shape of the cup itself is similar to that of the straw hat worn by Chinese farmers in northwest China. With its tiny bamboo like stem, the cup was made to be supported by the left hand and held along the rim with the right hand. The shape of the bowl and the size of the stem lead to another interesting result: if the tea cup is knocked over, the tea will not completely spill over. The rim of the cup is slightly concave and also protrudes slightly to better keep the tea leaves in the cup as a person drinks. The surface of the cup is colored bright and to the touch is as smooth as silk. The ribs in the teacup also allow for the collection of tea leaves so that the leaves are not drunken.

The teacup was made during the Southern Song Dynasty. After the Northern Song was invaded, the imperial kiln was set up in Hung Chou, Chao Tan, in Southern Ching. The crackles in the tea cup that look like crab legs were actually caused by dust. When the worker made the clay body, he placed it on the windowsill for it to wait to get fired. The cup would get dusty, but not all of the dust would get completely removed before the glaze was applied. This became one of the main ways to identify the period of the teacup. When the teacup was finished being fired it was removed from the kiln. The temperature difference between the warm kiln and the outdoor temperature and the presence of the dust under the glaze caused the crackle. A Crab leg shaped crackle in the dark colors on the celadon teacup was very common. It is considered one of the ways to identify an authentic teacup and the shaped crackle cannot be easily duplicated.

When the glaze is put on the tea cup, 3 to 4 layers of glaze was applied to make sure the protruding patter on the tea cup was completely covered. It is this that makes the tea cup the honey-glazed look.

In the old days the glaze workers used fingers to grab the edge of the cup and the foot stem to dip the cup into glaze. This is very different from today's method of using a brush to apply the glaze.

When the teacup is fired the temperatre in the kiln is slowly raised to 128 degrees Fahrenheit and then slowly lowered. It is because of this that the glaze on the teacup is very shiny, even today.

The teacups came in various sizes, similar idea and shape and different shades of the celadon color. From the tea cups, one can see the Song people's passion for tea...

The beautiful celadon tea cup caught my attention and curiosity, I asked knowledgeable people and read many books to learn more about it, after everything, I realized that the 800 year old tea cup was not just beautiful, it was more thoughtful about beauty and function than the teacups that we use today.