Nigel Wood presented at the Global Middle Ages Seminar on Wednesday, March 1, 2017 at 6 pm. His talk was entitled “Some New Perspectives on China’s Gongyi Kilns.”


Nigel Wood is Professor Emeritus at the University of Westminster, England, and an Academic Visitor at the School of Archaeology, University of Oxford. In 2009 he was made a Academic Committee Member of the Key Base of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage for Scientific Research on Ancient Ceramics in China (Palace Museum, Beijing). Wood originally trained as a potter and worked full-time making stoneware, porcelain, and terra-cotta for some ten years (1974–84) at a workshop in Hampshire, England. Since 1973 he has published more than a hundred papers on East Asian, European, and Middle Eastern ceramics, considered mainly from the technological perspective. In 1999 he published Chinese Glazes (University of Pennsylvania Press), and in 2004 he was co-author with Rose Kerr of the Ceramic Technology volume of Science and Civilisation in China: Joseph Needham, Vol V, part 12, (Cambridge University Press). His recent research collaborations concerning ceramics have been with the Palace Museum, Beijing, on Ding ware, Ru ware, and Guan ware (2010–present); with the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on a life-sized glazed ceramic luohan from Yixian in Hebei (2015); and a current project with the British Museum on early Chinese and Iraqi blue and white wares. He has also worked recently at Oxford on Egyptian copies of Longquan celadon wares, and on the relationships between Chinese ceramics and Korean Goryeo celadons of the early twelfth century. Wood has recently resumed his work as a potter and is presently establishing a new ceramics studio at Tichborne in Hampshire.

In this talk, Dr. Wood discussed the Gongyi (Gongxian) kilns in Henan province in north China, and their important place in world ceramic history. They are well known as the producers of China’s finest sancai lead-glazed wares—polychrome ceramics made largely for royal burials in the early eighth century AD. Towards the end of the Tang dynasty the Gongyi kilns adapted their polychrome funerary wares for export, particularly to the Middle East, where they had a profound impact on the development of Abbasid ceramics in Iraq, Syria, and Iran. The Gongyi kilns are also famous as the makers of the world’s first high-fired blue and white wares, decorated with cobalt-blue pigments. A review of ceramics excavated at Siraf in Iran has recently modified our views on the possible export of early high-fired blue and white wares from the Gongyi kilns to the Middle East in the later Tang dynasty. This in turn has raised questions about Gongyi’s role in the development of the Abbasid blue and white tradition itself. Recent excavation has also placed the Gongyi kilns at the forefront of research into the origins of white porcelain in China—with some production dates proposed for the Gongyi kilns being much earlier than previously established. This is very much ‘work in progress,’ but it has important implications for our understanding of the origins of Chinese white porcelain, and its subsequent spread through China’s northern provinces during the Sui and Tang dynasties.