Centre d’Élaboration de Matériaux et d’Etudes Structurales

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Chinese ceramics

After studying the materials of Greek and Roman pottery covers by developing suitable tools and methodologies, our field of action has been extended to glazes of Chinese ceramics. Collaborations have been established with French historians (FRAMESPA and CRCAO), Chinese archaeometer teams from Sun Yat-Sen (Guangzhou) and from the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and currently with the Institute of Silicate Cultural Heritage of the Shaanxi University of Science and Technology in Xi’an, with which a research agreement has been signed.

Starting from a detailed study of the microstructure and physical properties of glazes combined with model systems synthesized in the laboratory, the main objective is to provide new information on the production processes, their possible local characteristic and their evolution over time. We seek to specify the compositions and the conditions of formation of the crystalline phases which form during cooking (Fig. 1 and 2), according to the nature (chemical and mineral) of the raw material used.

Figure 1. Surface crystallization analyzed by SEM-EDS
Brown glaze from the workshop in Yaozhou (Shaanxi) (North Song period).
Mullite crystals (needles) with epitaxious growth of iron oxide crystals (e-Fe2O3) and indialite crystals (pseudo-hexagonal)


Figure 2. Crystals of a blue decoration analysed by SEM-EDS and Raman spectroscopy.
Ming Dynasty blue and white porcelain (Jingdezhen production).
Manganese ferrite crystals whose Fe/Mn ratio varies according to the position in the dendrite causing an offset of the Raman lines


Since the colouring elements of the glazes studied are based on transition metals (Fe, Mn, Co, Cu), particular attention is paid to the crystals and the glass phases containing them. Their origin is also questioned : i) presence in the raw material, ii) addition in the form of simple oxides more or less pure or iii) via a pigment of complex composition. The role of these transition elements, as well as the demixing henomena of the glass phase in the colour, are also studied. The information derived from these physico-chemical data is then compared with historical (archival studies) and archaeological (excavation) data. This work also aims to provide elements in the field of authentication of works.


Currently, two types of decoration/glaze are specifically studied by the team :

• Cobalt-based blue porcelain decorations from the Yuan and Ming dynasties (see Defended PhD theses, Fig. 1)

• Tang and Song iron-based black to brown glazes (thesis in progress, Fig. 2).


Defended PhD theses :

• Tian Wang, A multi-scale study of ancient ceramics using a series of analytical techniques. PhD thesis from the University of Toulouse (2016). HAL Id : tel-02011149, version 1

• Ariane Pinto, Microstructure and technical processes of Qinghua porcelains : a Materials Science approach, PhD thesis from the University of Toulouse (2019). HAL Id : tel-02736090, version 1


PhD theses in progress :

• Bailin Shen (2018-2021), Brown and Green Glazes from the Changsha Workshops of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and the Five Dynasties (907-960)

• Clément Holé (2019-2022), Chinese Ceramic Glazes : Historical Materials with High Technological Potential


Selected publications :

  1. Chromogenic mechanisms in blue-and-white porcelains. A. Pinto, J. Groenen, B. Zhao, T.Q. Zhu, Ph. Sciau (2020). J. Europ. Ceram. Soc 40 (15), ‏6181-6187 (DOI : 10.1016/j.jeurceramsoc.2020.06.065).
  2.  Ceramic technology : how to characterize terra sigillata ware. Ph. Sciau, C. Sanchez, E. Gliozzo (2020). Archaeol. Anthropol. Sci. 12 (9), 211(DOI : 10.1007/s12520-020-01137-8).
  3. Les glaçures de céramiques chinoises colorées au fer : un matériau historique à fort potentiel en science de la matière ? Ph. Sciau, C. Brouca-Cabarrecq, A. Pinto (2019). Technè n° 47, 144-49.
  4. Raman study of Ming porcelain dark spots : Probing Mn-rich spinels. A. Pinto, Ph. Sciau, T.-Q. Zhu, B. Zhao, J. Groenen (2019). J. Raman Spectrosc. 50 (5), 711-719 (DOI : 10.1002/jrs.5568)
  5. Micro-structural study of colored porcelains of Changsha kiln using imaging and spectroscopic techniques. Bailin Shen, Philippe Sciau, Tian Wang, Magali Brunet, Jianmao Li, Wen Lu, Tiequan Zhu (2018). Ceramics International 44(15), 18528-18534 (DOI:10.1016/j.ceramint.2018.07.074).
  6. Raman study of Yuan Qinghuaporcelain : the highlighting of dendritic CoFe2O4 crystals in blue decorations. T. Wang, T.Q. Zhu, M. Brunet, C. Deshayes, Ph. Sciau (2017). J. Raman Spectrosc. 48 (2), 267-70(DOI : 10.1002/jrs.5029).


Contact : philippe.sciau chez cemes.fr