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Ethnographic Museum

Celadon in Focus. Jade-like porcelains and their masters in Longquan, PR of China

Media Release (4000 characters)

Zurich, 14th November 2019

With its shimmering manifold green and blue colors, celadon porcelain from the Chinese province of Zhejiang, which draws on a thousand year-old tradition, is currently undergoing a new resurgence. An exhibition at the Ethnographic Museum of the University of Zurich provides insights into the history, technology and knowledge of the craft in the celadon metropolis of Longquan.

China has produced a variety of porcelains using specialized crafts with local clays and earth for centuries. These include the pale green-blue shimmering celadon, which mirrors the deep green landscapes and the blue sky of the province of Zhejiang. The new exhibition at the Ethnographic Museum at the University of Zurich is dedicated to this jade-like porcelain and to the skills of its creators. The exhibition is co-curated with a guest curator from Berlin, sinologist and ceramicist Anette Mertens, who by means of exemplary masterpieces presents the results of her celadon research and lets the master craftswomen and craftsmen, and their apprentices, speak. Her collaboration with them, as well as with social anthropologist and sinologist Mareile Flitsch of the University of Zurich, has resulted in this exhibition which presents the traditions, technologies and skills of the craft.

Celadon craftmanship looks back at a long tradition
The Chinese province of Zhejiang has been renowned for its celadon porcelain since at least the 9th century. The people who produced it needed expertise in the processing of materials, especially in the many unpredictable factors of the complex firing technologies.

Longquan celadon first flourished in the 11th to the 14th centuries, when it was included in the imperial collections. As it grew in popularity  it became global export ware. Today major museums all over the world display precious celadon artefacts from the Song, Yuan and Ming eras. Longquan celadon gradually fell into oblivion until      the end of 19th century. But it was later rediscovered by scholars: With their research, and on the initiative of Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, celadon production was relaunched in state factories in the 1950s.

An old artisanal craft undergoes a new resurgence
A first modern generation of ceramicists – in more recent times including female ceramicists – has come of age, educated in state enterprises and research institutes. With the economic changes of the 1990s, many of them founded private workshops. A milestone and a major challenge for the complex craft was the transition from wood-fired dragon kilns to today’s gas-fueled kilns. The technique is now recognized by UNESCO as an item of intangible cultural heritage and protected under Chinese culture laws. With high-end celadon, some of the ceramicists have successfully positioned themselves as nationally renowned masters. In workshops around the celadon museum in Longquan today, they specialize in glaze colors and craquelures and develop their own individual styles. “Celadon porcelain is experiencing a new resurgence,” says co-curator Anette Mertens.

What is a perfect celadon?
Alongside the changes in and modernization of the craft, the curators were also interested in exploring the criteria by which today’s master craftspeople measure the value and quality of celadon. Which spectrum of clays, glazes and decors provides the best base for their skills and creativity? “The craftswomen and craftsmen focus on historic pieces and styles,” Anette Mertens explains. “The Song dynasty celadons, for example, are still unparalleled today.” The related knowledge is retained not only in the ceramics themselves, but equally in shard fragments found around historic kiln sites. They serve as a source of inspiration for the ceramicists in Longquan today. “The vessels on display in the exhibition represent the repertoire of these modern celadon artists,” says the director of the museum Mareile Flitsch. “Visitors to the museum will get to know them as glaze enthusiasts, incessantly striving for the perfect celadon.”

Celadon in Focus. Jade-like Porcelains and their Masters in Longquan, PR of China

Exhibition at the Ethnographic Museum at the University of Zurich

24th November 2019 to 7th March 2021

Free entrance

Launch: Sunday, 24th November 2019, 11:30 a.m.

Publication on the exhibition
Anette Mertens with Mareile Flitsch: ‘Seladon im Augenmerk. Jadegleiche Porzellane und ihre Meister in Longquan’. Stuttgart: arnoldsche Art Publishers and Völkerkundemuseum der Universität Zürich, 2019. (English edition planned for spring 2020).


Ethnographic Museum at the University of Zurich
Prof. Dr. Mareile Flitsch, curator and director
Tel. +41 44 634 90 24

Media Relations
University of Zurich
Tel. +41 44 634 44 67

Weiterführende Informationen

Press Release University of Zurich

Mao Zhengcong

Grandmaster Mao Zhengcong trimming a bowl in his workshop in Longquan. Photo: Franca Wohlt, 2018.

Mao Zhengcong and Anette Mertens

Grandmaster Mao Zhengcong in conversation with curator Anette Mertens. Photo: Franca Wohlt. 2018.


Mao Weijie

Master Mao Weijie at the potters’ wheel. Photo: Franca Wohlt, 2018.

Celadon Drizzling rain

Siyu 丝雨 (Drizzling rain). Plum green celadon with gold thread crackels. Mao Zhengcong. 22×22×18 cm. Photo: Franca Wohlt, 2018.

Vase with narrow waist

Fenqing xiaomiyao 粉青小蜜腰 (Pale blue vase with narrow waist). Mao Yizhen. 18.5×37 cm. Photo: Franca Wohlt, 2018.


Jinsi hu 金丝壶 (Jug with gold thread craquelure). Zeng Wenlong. 6.8×16.5 cm. Photo: Franca Wohlt, 2018.

Brush washer

Niu xi 牛洗 (Brush washer with water buffaloes ). Chen Shaoqing. 24×24×7 cm. Photo: Franca Wohlt, 2018.

Chen Shaoqing

In-glaze painting of two fishes on a celadon bowl. Chen Shaoqing. Photo Franca Wohlt, 2018.

Yang Jianqin

Mistress Yang Jianqin carving cut and scratch decors. Motive: Leaves. Photo: Franca Wohlt, 2018.

Chen Shaoqing

Mistress Chen Shaoqing in her workshop signing a vase. Photo: Photo: Franca Wohlt, 2018.


Workspace in the workshop of master Jiang Xiaohong in the celadon quarter of Longquan. Photo: Franca Wohlt, 2018.

Celadon shard fragment

Historic celadon shard fragment with double fishes motif. Collection Li Zhen. Photo: Franca Wohlt, 2018.


Look into the freshly opened gaz kiln in the workshop of grandmaster Mao Zhengcong. Photo: Franca Wohlt, 2018.

Dragon kiln

The dragon kiln of the Zeng family meanwhile is world heritage site. Photo: Franca Wohlt, 2018.


Among the celadon masters each visit starts with a bowl of freshly prepared tea. Photo: Franca Wohlt, 2018.