A complete ceramic cargo from one time period provides a unique opportunity for analysis. Previous attempts to arrange kraak plates and dishes chronologically based on a correlation between their overall width and their foot-ring diameters were inconclusive because of insufficient archaeological data. Still, attempts were made since flatware made in moulds should, theoretically, show identical measurements unless the mould changed in size over time (1). Samples from The Wanli Shipwreck however demonstrate that even from the same time period, the ratio of overall diameter to foot-ring diameter is not correlated. The hypothesis that this ratio can be used to determine age therefore proves to be incorrect.
To test the theory, a number of randomly selected kraak wares in different size categories were measured. The results were surprising. The measurements do not show evidence that the pieces were made in a limited number of moulds of the same size. If anything, the variations in size suggest that hundreds or more moulds of different sizes were in use at the time that the Wanli shipwreck ceramics were made.
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The Wanli kraak ware measurements were made based upon the categories of ware recorded at the time of the cargo recovery (when only a few groups were registered based on their overall diameter). At that point, the wares were categorised into 280mm, 320mm, 370mm and 510 mm groups. While many plates and dishes easily fell within the designated groups, other pieces with a smaller or larger diameter had to be transferred into other groups.
The table below shows all the measurements taken on randomly selected kraak plates. The figures in bold draw attention to the largest and smallest diameters within each group.
Note: As can be seen there is no fixed relation between large overall width and large foot-ring diameter. A larger plate could have a small diameter foot-ring and vice versa. Only the very large kraak plates show such unusual motifs as the oxen or tiger. Note how close a 305 mm plate in the 280 mm group comes to the 307 mm diameter plate in the 320 mm group.
Observations on Kraak dishes:
It was already apparent at the time of the cargo recovery, that some differently sized kraak dishes were associated with their own unique style of painted motif. For that reason, kraak dishes and twin deer plates were measured as a separate group based on their decoration rather than on size alone. It was also apparent that dishes with peonies in reserve always maintained a higher degree of glaze gloss, perhaps suggesting a higher firing temperature or a different glaze recipe.
The table below shows the maximum and minimum measurements of thirty kraak dishes and thirty twin deer plates where the decorative motif was the main criteria for their grouping.
1. From Tang Ying’s written report, submitted to the imperial palace in 1743 together with “Twenty Illustrations of the Manufacture of Porcelain,” he observe: “In the manufacture of the round ware each several piece has to be repeated hundreds or thousands of times. Without moulds it would be most difficult to make the pieces all exactly alike” and continues to say “Each piece must have several moulds, prepared, and the size and pattern of the contents when taken out of the kiln must be exactly alike.” Although all samples in the mid- 18th century may have been exactly alike, most flat wares in the Wanli cargo varied greatly.
BACK TO THE MAIN TEXTmid- 18th century may have been exactly alike, most flat wares in the Wanli cargo varied greatly.
Note: As can be seen, there is greater difference in foot-ring diameter on the kraak dishes with medallion borders than on the other dishes.
It would appear from these measurements that there were many sizes of moulds available at the time of The Wanli Shipwreck and that many different kilns, or potteries, may have supplied the ship. The above measurements would also suggest that attempts to date Jingdezhen flat-wares based on sizing alone is rather futile.
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Nanhai Marine Archaeology Sdn. Bhd. was incorporated on the recommendation of the Malaysian authorities. This was done in order to formalize and to expand on the founder’s extensive knowledge of Asia’s ceramic developments and maritime trade. The company’s researchers have been engaged in the search for historical shipwrecks for more than two decades and another decade researching maritime trade. Most of this work is concentrated to the South China Sea, a virtual highway for ancient shipping linking China to India, the Middle East and Southeast Asia in an extensive maritime trade system. This ancient trade started sometime around the 4th century and lasted well into the 19th century.
Following a successful shipwreck discovery, the company obtain a government permit to excavate the wreckage, and then carry out detailed marine archaeological procedures in recovering the artifacts, mapping the ship's remains and securing other data for future research. After each concluded project and following conservation of recovered artifacts, we search for and pinpoint ruined kiln sites and compare its wasters with the recovered ceramics until we are satisfied we located the place in which the shipwreck pottery was made centuries earlier.
Our arrangement with the Malaysian authorities is such that we finance all operations and train young Malaysian nationals (on our initiative) in maritime archaeology and related research. After giving all unique and single artifacts and thirty percent of all recovered items to the National Museum (and assisting with exhibitions of artifacts from eachhttp://www.mingwrecks.com/of reports, books and catalogues are available on these pages as well as on a separate Internet site.
The artifacts sold on this website are therefore legally and properly excavated and can be supplied with an export permit from the Department of Museum in Malaysia should this be required. This unique working arrangement makes us one of the few Internet sellers that sell from own excavation and deliver a meaningful Certificate of Authenticity with every artifact issued with a serial number. So, if you are interested to purchase some of our Chinese porcelain and other shipwreck artifacts from the Song dynasty, Ming dynasty, or 19th century Qing porcelain or the famous Yixing teapots, you can rest assured that every piece is excavated through proper archaeology by our own staff. We do not sell anything that is not excavated by ourselves or properly recorded and researched before offered for sale so every piece comes with the “Best possible provenance” WE ENCOURAGE YOU TO EMAIL OUR PRINCIPAL RESEARCHER; Sten Sjostrand SHOULD YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR POSSIBLE PURCHASE
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Foot ring analysis of plates and dishes from Wanli shipwreck
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