To many tea and traditional pottery lovers, Ruyao or Ru Kiln 汝窑 is a term that conjures images of a rich, jade like texture, pure and deep colour, and a smooth yet subtly crazed surface. Here is a simple introduction to one of China’s most celebrated ceramic arts, Ruyao.
Ruyao originated in the late Song dynasty (around 700 years ago). The kiln was located in Ru zhou 汝州, hence the style became known as “Ru Kiln.” There were 5 famous kilns in the Song Dynasty: Ru kiln, Guan Kiln, Ge kiln, Jun Kiln and Ding Kiln. Ru kiln was labeled, “top of the 5 kilns,” and was the official royal kiln, producing ceramics for the Emperor and his family. What makes Ruyao antiques especially valuable was the short period that the kiln operated during the Song Dynasty - only around 20 years. Today only a total of 67 pieces from that period have survived. Reflecting its imperial origins, modern true Ruyao represents a form of sophisticated luxury in the tea world.
Today, Jingdezhen Masters working with traditional recipes and methods have revived the art form. Since the technique is evolving, modern ruyao pieces can be made in a way that closely mirrors the techniques of Ruyao from the Song Dynasty. According to archaeological evidence, the Ruyao of the Song Dynasty originated in Qing Liang temple ( 清凉寺). It was in this little temple, that the craftsmen created the magical recipe for this amazing pottery- Ruyao.
During the Song Dynasty, there was a saying, “One would rather have one piece of Ruyao than to have a fortune”, it shows how valuable Ruyao was. Here are the 4 specialties of Ruyao:
1) Opening crack ( 开片 kaipian): This means the opening cracks on the glaze (known as 'crazing'). When firing the pottery, and as the body expands, crazing appears on the surface of the glaze.
2) The azure glaze: There is a line from a poem that describes this specific color-“The azure in the sky after the rain”. It’s refreshing, pure, rich, just like Jade.
3) Grey porcelain body: We can see this in some broken pieces of Ruyao in museums, the body is thin and grey, like the colour of ash. Generally, the side walls of Ruyao are thinner than the bottom.
4, Plain: Traditionally, Ruyao is plain, without any painting or decoration. However, some modern artists may add qinghua designs.
It's not that difficult to find ruyao on the market today. As we mentioned, there are only 67 original Song Dynasty Ruyao pieces in the world, so all the modern ruyao in the market is the result of either artists or factories attempting to recreate this ancient recipe. However, it is much more difficult to find good examples of modern ruyao that reproduces the same quality of texture and depth as the original. Producing high-quality modern ruyao requires ancient knowledge, professional skills and years of experience. Ruyao Master 李善明 Lee Shanming is one of the most famous and accomplished Ruyao artists in China. His work, featured in our Shop, is among the best examples of modern Ruyao on the market today.
This red ruyao cup is one of our favourite pieces by Lee Shanming. The deep red is known as Jihong 霁红. It is a very special and beautiful shade of red with a long history in Chinese ceramics. In order to achieve jihong red glaze, the artist needs to add copper oxide to the glaze recipe. The glaze recipe is very difficult to fire successfully in the kiln. If the temperature is too high, the iron in the blue ruyao may show as black metal spots, and if the temperature is not high enough, the red ruyao is dull and greyish pink. Because of the difficulty in firing red Ruyao, it has the highest scrap rate of any colour and requires a great deal more time, trial and error to produce a piece.
Here are some tips for caring for your Ruyao piece:
1 Warm your Ruyao ware by rinsing in warm or hot tap water before pouring very hot tea or water into it, and avoid sudden and extreme changes in temperature as it will cause the surface to craze more quickly.
2, After several months of use, the crazing (surface cracks) will begin to stain with the colour of the tea, this is called the opening cracks effect, it’s the specialty of all the crazing porcelain. Some people like it a lot and want to see it sooner, this can be accomplished by soaking the piece in tea - the darker the more visible the staining will be.