Collection Insight: What is Celadon

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The Hammond-Harwood House is most fortunate to have an extensive collection of celadon ceramic ware. The term “celadon,” coined by European connoisseurs, refers to the pottery’s pale jade-green glaze. First made in China, celadon was exported to India, Persia, and Egypt in the Tang dynasty (618–907), to most of Asia in the Song (960–1279) and Ming (1368–1644) dynasties and to Europe in the 14th century.

The name “Celadon” has long been thought to have come from the similarity of the color with the green ribbons of the costume robe worn by the shepherd Celadon, Honoré d’Urfé’s heroic character from his 16th century romance L’Astrée. Today, the term “Celadon” is referenced as a color, a glaze and as a ceramic ware. It gets its green color due to the conversion of ferric iron oxide to ferrous iron (Fe2O3 → FeO) during the firing process, which is about 2300 ºF. These wares gained popularity because of their beautiful unique color and were greatly valued by the Chinese because they resembled jade.

Since the Song dynasty, flowers have been among the most popular motifs. The dishes in the Hammond-Harwood House collection were made in China, presumably for the western market, as Europe had not figured out how to produce celadon. The Hammond-Harwood House pieces, which date from the early 19th century, are all different from each other, but all include an assortment of flowers, butterflies, birds, and beetles, which is a testimony to the influence of the natural world in Chinese and Japanese art. The dishes are hand painted in the Famille Rose palette, which consisted of the use of pinks, greens, and yellows. I have to smile about the prospect of eating an elegant pastry or spooning out syllabub on a plate with a bug motif!

The House is so very fortunate to have received 44 celadon pieces in 1942, thanks to the generous donation of Lenora Jackson McKim (1879-1969), in honor of her husband Dr. William McKim. William McKim was a descendent of 1saac McKim, a trade merchant and 19th century Congressional representative. A charming letter of thanks was sent to Mrs. McKim from the Hammond-Harwood House Secretary, Mrs. F.F. Beirne, who wrote, “It was received with great enthusiasm, and we feel that it will be stunning in our large rooms which make so many patterns look small and insipid.” Although Mrs. Beirne’s comment is a bit harsh, she is right about the elegance of the pattern and color that has incorporated itself into the elegance of the dining room.

Thanks to the miracles of the internet, I found an interesting factoid associated with celadon. Apparently, an added virtue for celadon’s popularity was the belief that “a celadon dish would break or change colour if poisoned food were put into it.” Note to self…

We are going to be decorating the House for the holiday season and our food historian Joyce White will be providing a new setting of foods with the place settings. Come see for yourself and imagine dining on such prized pieces!

T Celadon Chinese Export
44 pieces, C16
Gift of Mrs. William Duncan McKim in memory of her husband Dr. McKim

Hammond-Harwood House archives

Lucinda Dukes Edinberg, curator

Posted on Dec 16, 2022 in , by Hammond-Harwood House



Hammond-Harwood House

The mission of the Hammond-Harwood House Association is to preserve, for public education and enjoyment, the architecturally significant Hammond-Harwood House museum and its collection of fine and decorative arts.
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