Chinese ceramics called Celadons have the property of detecting food poisoning

Visitors to the Salar Jung Museum take pleasure in viewing the Chinese ceramics called Celadons. Consisting mostly of bowls, plates and vases these Celadon objects afford a pleasant sight on the basis of their smooth jade-like glazes, simple but dignified shapes and designs added in a variety of ways. Another reason for their popularity is that they have the property of detecting food poisoning!

Celadon is a hard, dense, porcellanous stone ware containing ‘kaolin’, one of the two elements of porcelain. Obviously, it is not porcelain. While the body of porcelain is white, the body of celadon is reddish brown. The glaze is the most endearing part of celadon ware. It has jade-like softness. Some colours of the glazes are pale green, mild blue, pale blue and bluish green. Both the glaze and body are fired, unlike porcelain, only once.

The manufacture of Celadon started in China during the Sung period (960-1279 AD). Lung-Chuan-yao, first and Chu-chou, next, were famous production centres. Their products found their way to different parts of the world. Arabs were the first carriers of trade both over land and sea.

Not of Chinese origin

‘Celadon’, though associated with Chinese, is not of Chinese origin. A theory which is accepted by many is that the word is derived from a French character named ‘celadon’ who appears in a French drama ‘L’ Astree’ by D’urf (1567-1625 AD) clad in a mantle the colour of which approximated to the grey green stone ware objects of Lung-Chuan-Yao, the well known Chinese manufacturing centre. At this time the wares of the factory became fashionable in France. As the Chinese name, Lung-Chuan-yao, was difficult to pronounce, the name ‘celadon’ was readily adopted.

Regarding the poison detecting potentiality of celadon dishes it may be noted that although it has no scientific basis the impression that celadons detect food poisoning persists in popular mind because it was believed in ancient China and Sumatra and later in Middle Eastern countries that celadons contain the quality of splitting or breaking when they came into contact with poisoned food.

Salar Jung Museum contains a number of celadons belonging to Sung (10th to 13th c), Ming (13th to 17th centuries), and Chung (17th to 19th c)periods. The decorations they contain are: incised, impressed and applied reliefs. Especially appealing are the pieces with ‘crackle’ decorations.

The writer is retired Dep. Keeper, Salarjung Museum

More In: Hyderabad