With a pear-shaped body carved with the vertically ‘hundred rib’ rising from spreading pedestal foot to a long narrow neck, flanked each side by the raised ruyi-shaped handles and spherical pearls with the stylized blooming lotus-leaf patterns below the stepped lip and sloping lotus lappets below the shoulder, covered all over in a thin deep olive green glaze tone suffused with crackles and rusty blotches around the body because of riverbed effect for hundreds of years, the glaze pooling to a deeper tone in the recessed areas stopping at the above unglazed foot ring and base in burnt chocolate-brown color in the kiln exposing the grey stoneware body.
The present vessel was found in scrub near Batanghari river basin, Jambi region – Sumatra on November, 1990. The Jambi region, around the basin of Batanghari River in Central Sumatra, was the site of pre-Islamic kingdom of Melayu. It also sometimes served as the capital of the empire of Sriwijaya (Srivijaya). Youzhou wares do not seem to have been exported in great quantities. In archaeological perspective, the Yaozhou ware is rarely found the sites in other countries, but the fragments were found in Indonesia and Vietnam.1)
Srivijaya empire in Sumatra emerged as a significant player in international trade, including with Chinese dynasties far long centuries ago. In 1025 AD, Rajendra Chola I, the Chola king from Tamil Nadu in South India, launched a surprise naval attack to Srivijaya empire. Though Srivijaya’s networks was in demise because of Chola’s attack on Sailendra Dynasty of Srivijaya, but Srivijaya mandala still survived as the Chola invasion eventually failed to strengthen direct administration over Srivijaya, and the Chola’s invading was brief lasting and only destined to loot.2) The notable history discloses that Srivijaya was recognized by the Song court as a China’s key trading partner in maritime Southeast Asia caused it to be highly sensitive to any administrative or political changes within China. Srivijaya carefully followed the events taking place in China, and its rulers appear to have kept themselves updated on the political change there.3).
The present Yaozhou vase is one of the testaments disclosing the trade of Yaozhou wares between Northern Song dynasty and Srivijaya empire. Yaozhou kiln was one of the major schools of ceramic in northern China, and the kilns’ production spanned from the (618 – 907) to the Yuan (1271 – 1368) dynasties. Established during the Tang dynasty (618-907), the Yaozhou kiln complex, located at Huangbao town in Shaanxi province, firstly fired black and white wares. The kiln came into prominence for its notable striking olive green-glazed stoneware that reached its zenith in Northern Song dynasty (960 – 1127 AD). Compared to the Longquan celadon glaze of Song dynasty showing in emerald color tone, the celadon Yaozhou glaze of Northern Song dynasty mostly appears pale to dark lustrous and translucen olive-green color with varied tones. Applied overall with a dark or deep olive-green glaze pooling to a deeper tone in the recessed areas and thinning to the raised edges, the present vase is closely matched in Yaozhou ware from Shaanxi province during Northern Song dynasty 960 – 1127 AD) or Jin dynasty (1115 – 1234 AD).
The style of décor of molded sloping lotus lappet pattern on this vase is a reminiscent of a contemporary embryonic form of lead-green glaze lotus vase or ‘Qing Ci Lian Hua Zu’ dated to Sui dynasty (581-618 AD). The prototype of the current vase was excavated in Zibo, Shandong (see fig. 1).4) Much Song ware shapes and patterns followed the past antiquity since culture and art during the Song dynasty reign featured the tradition and innovation, inheriting from the past and setting the stage for the future.
From Song dynasty, the forms and patterns of Yaozhou ceramics, like the present piece, were then inherited and resumed throughout the kilns in China in later reigns. Moreover, after the collapse of Song dynasty, Yuan dynasty (1271 –1368 AD) ascended the throne, and various earlier ceramic traditions were continued at Jingdezhen kiln in Jianxi province. A similar vase form and carved pattern to this piece but coated with a pale blue glaze (Qingbai) dated to 13th – 14th century is from the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco (see fig. 2). The author, He Li, discusses that the form of the vase adapted classical bronze shapes to ceramic wares. Much influenced by Zhejiang wares, Jiangxi potters recreated conventional celadon form, whose shape and handles are similar to longquan wares of Song dynasty. Embellished with an unusual garland and ears in the form of cloud-head alternating which roundels around its neck, this vase exhibits aspects of the supreme inspiration which characterizes Song dynasty.5) The present Yaozhou vase form is rarely published, and its carved decoration element was obviously recreated and improved by potters at Jingdezhen kiln on Qingbai wares during 13th – 14th centuries. Oborne discusses that Qingbai ware also borrowed and improved on decoration from the Ding and Yaozhou wares.6)
Gompertz, G.St.G.M, Chinese Celadon Wares, 1980 (2nd edn.), Faber & Faber, p. 125
Munoz, Paul Michel, Early Kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, 2006, p. 163.
Derek Heng, Sino–Malay Trade and Diplomacy from the Tenth through the Fourteenth Century, Ohio University Research in International Studies, Ohio University Press, Athens, 2009, p. 77.
Zhongguo chutu ciqi quanji [Complete Collection of Ceramic Art Unearthed in China], Beijing, 2008, Shandong volume, pl. 35.
He Li, Chinese Ceramics: The New Standard Guide’, Thames and Hudson, Singapore, 1996, cat. 373, p. 179
The Oxford Companion to the Decorative Arts, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1975, 192 – 193.