by Santo Chino
Yixing teapots are world famous, known particularly for their purple sand clay properties. The teapots date to the beginning of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and stem from the Yixing region of China. Pottery makers of this region handed down their crafts to family members dating back to the Sung Dynasty (960-1279). Each pot was handmade in a simple, yet elegant fashion and marked on the bottom, under the lid or the handle. The teapots are made from the porous purple clay from the Yixing region which turns colors when glazed, while the inside of the teapots are left uncoated.
It wasn’t until the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) when Yixing teapots were redesigned to be used in the emperor’s palace. At this time the teapots were fashioned with inlaid gold, silver and various drawings. Yixing pottery makers were the only craftsmen used to hand make the teapots and were ordered to carry the emperor’s seal rather than the artist’s chops. When China began exporting, the purple teapots were also exported to Europe and greatly influenced the development of teapots used today around the world.
In 1522-1591, the well known Japanese artist Sen Rikyu further enhanced the artistic design of the teapots by creating and engraving calligraphy, may of which were meditations used in the Buddhist Teasim ceremonies. The modern artistry of Yixing teapots is a combination of the traditional and new world styles, yet retaining the use of the purple and zisha clay from this pottery capital. Traditional artists with modern education and training have been taught the Yixing pottery techniques. They continue to design and hand make teapots, most often taught by a master in their family.
Today, the city of Yixing is the largest manufacturer of their teapots which are produced only on the Sushan Hill which is made up of the essential clay material for the teapots. The clay is either red or brown and is easy to mold and remains cohesive when it is being worked. These teapots today are very popular in their use to brew tea, because of their ability to gradually be seasoned, which delectably absorbs the flavor and aroma of the various tea blends.
The unique inscription feature on the bottom of the Yixing teapot can be somewhat of a mystery. This is because the inscriptions can not always be interpreted. The script could be an imprint of the teapot maker, the company who made it or sometimes out of respect, the name “China, Yixing” or “Jingxi Hui Mengchen Zhi”, who was the famous potter of the Qing Dynasty.
Yixing pots are designed anywhere from the simple beauty of form and color, to ornately exotic and exquisite works of art. The decoration of the pots consists of individualized paintings and illustrations of abstract designs, religious symbols such as Buddha, Chinese zodiac symbols, geometric designs, plants/flowers and animal/bird/insect etchings.