The vase is thinly potted with ovoid pear-shaped body rising elegantly from a short recessed foot to the flaring trumpet-shaped neck and mouth, softly molded around the body with a wide band of scrolling peonies above a border of upright chrysanthemum petals, the waisted neck flanked by a pair of double loop suspending ring handles, covered overall with a rich bluish-grey-green glaze suffused with a network of luminous golden-beige crackles thinning at the edges of vase with the unglazed footring showing iron black clay body.
In the 12th to 13th centuries, the Song dynasty moved towards to leading China to be the first country in the world to sense industrialization due to its economic affluence through its trade and diplomacy with other countries. Along with prosperity of Southern Song dynasty, Java and Srivijaya kingdoms provided their prosperity by their participation in an increasingly vibrant and lucrative international trade and diplomacy for China, where their resources were in high demand. Based on the ancient Chinese archive, Lin Qingqin concludes that in the Southern Song (Chinese: 南宋; 1127–1279), there were dozens of merchant ships from Champa (Vietnam), Siem Reap (Cambodia), Samboja (around the Jambi, Sumatra), Shepo (Java), and other countries every year, which brought in a constant supply of exotic and precious articles such as rhino horns, ivory, pearls, spices and glassware into Guanzhou port of China.(see: 李庆新 (Li Qingqin), 海上丝绸之路英 (Maritime Silk Road), Translated by William W. Wang, China International Press, 2006, p. 87).
Marsha Ackerman-Schroeder-Terry-Hwa Lo-Mark discuss in Encyclopedia of World History, The Ancient World: Prehistoric to 600 C.E, Facts on File Publishing Ltd, New York, 2008, p. 375 that according to a Chinese manuscript “Lingwai Daida” (Answers for Outside the Lingnan Area) written by a geographer of Southern Song Dynasty “Zhou Qufei 周去非” (1135 – 1189 AD) had a detailed description about Srivijaya Kingdom. The book describes “The Kingdom of Srivijaya is a center of waterways in the South China sea. Countries within a vast geographical area from the Indonesian islands in the east to the Middle East in the West have to go past Srivijaya to arrive China.2) Likewise, Chinese ships, navigated by the compass that was first used by Chinese navigators around 1100 AD, with each capacity between 200 and 600 tons, dominated the seas, carrying the Chinese ceramics and other commodities to Japan, Southeast Asia. Taxes on trade generated the revenue required to pay the annual tribute to Jin state and to pay for the army power. It is undoubtedly the high-value Chinese ceramics of the Southern Song dynasty has been recovered by archaeologists in Sumatra and Java sites until today. The author found a huge deposits of Southern Song ceramics at a number of sites beneath the Musi River Palembang, one of the biggest rivers in South Sumatra that had been powerful fleet and boisterous trading center between the 7th and the 13th centuries. Unfortunately, the author has not found the sample of original ‘Guan Yao’ (official) ceramics of Southern Song dynasty, like the present researched piece. Although the present vase is claimed by the owner as a hereditary legacy from his ancestors living in Srivijaya (Sumatra) for centuries, but it is impossible to date the piece with any precision just relying on its provenance information. Thus, to ascertain its period and origin of its kiln, the author researched it by first-hand inspection that is focused on its physical characteristics and archeological similar artifacts found in other sites, scholarly literatures and comparison with those of in the renowned museums and market.
Although the present impressive vase form is not exactly copied, but the vase is clearly modelled after a ritual wine hu-shaped bronze vessel of Western Zhou dynasty (1050 BC – 771 BC) providing its inspiration. The prototype from the British Museum, is illustrated in Chinese Bronze: Art and Ritual, Rawson J, London, 1987, Cat.No. 29. (see fig. 1). As a grandeur archaic object, the ritual hu-shaped bronze frequently appeared to have been emulated and developed in the form of ceramics with more stunning appearance, refined and adapted to the contemporaneous style of Northern Song dynasty (960 – 1279 AD) and Southern Song dynasty (1127 – 1279 AD).
Southern Song dynasty (1127 – 1279 AD) is considered to be a ceramic history producing what many consider as the zenith of Chinese archaic bronze-shaped ceramics with a wide range of innovative ideas in shape, glaze and design. Through the innovative ideas, Southern Song potter produced the present archaic-shaped Guan vase intended to emulate the earlier bronze ritualistic vessel (hu) form since it was difficult to gain bronze or jade prototype and to celebrate the past grandeur of ceremonial vessels. This warm and solemn Guan vase closely resembling the earlier bronze vessels was made at Jiaotanxia official kiln for the court aesthetics of the Southern Song emperors’ interest. The ceramic forms of Song dynasty modelled in reminiscence of the past relics also appear to have been seen on Song dynasty vases, jars and bowls of Celadon, Qingbai, Chizou and Jun, making its own unique contributions with variant styles and models.
In Southern Song, there were two official kilns producing the Guan wares, and they were: Jiaotanxia (Altar of Heaven) Guanyao kiln site in Hangzhou region and Xiuneisi (The Palace Maintenance Office) Guanyao kiln site in Laohudong region. Chen Nianyi, Lu Wencong, Yang Jie, note in Support Vector Machine In Chemistry, World Scientific Publishing Singapore, 2004, p. 245 that according to this record, in Southern Song Dynasty there should be two official porcelain kilns, 内司 Xiuneisi kiln and 郊壇下Jiaotanxia kilns, in Hangzhou region. The site of Jiaotanxia (Altar of Heaven) kiln was discovered by archeologists many years ago. It is stated that the existence of Xiuneisi is another problem having in controversy for many years, and the Xiuneisi Guanyao kiln site in Laohudong (Tiger’ Cave) region had not been found even after more than 50 years exploration. So, some archaeologists suspected the existence of Xiuneisi kiln.
However, the Chinese archaeologists discovered Laohudong kiln in Hangzhou region in 1996. The shards were excavated from the Xiuneisi kiln site which one of two excavated Guan wares is from imperial kilns in Hangzhou. The pear-shaped body with petal-lobed sides of guan vase was excavated there. See a guan vase without molded design, handles and rings of Southern Song period excavated from in Laohudong region that is claimed to be from Xiuneisi Guanyao (The Palace Maintenance Office) kiln site. The vase is then published and illustrated in Nan Song Hangzhou Xiuneisi guanyao yanjiu, Ma Yizhao, Hangzhou (Study of Song Xiuneisi Imperial Kilns Hangzhou), 2006, p. 148, no. 112 (see fig. 2). This discovery has reconditioned the study and debate regarding the existence of Xiuneisi (The Palace Maintenance Office) and other official kiln sites of the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279 AD).
The presence and difference of wares from Northern Song dynasty and Southern Song dynasty is not separated by the turbulence history of Song dynasty. The Song imperial kilns were divided into separate dynasties after Han Chinese Song dynasty (960 – 1279) lost its northern China territories to Jurchen of Jin Dynasty (1115 – 1234) during the Jin-Song Wars between from 1115 to 1127 AD. The Emperor Huizong of Song dynasty (1100–1126), accompanied by his loyal adherents and one of his sons, Prince Gaozong (Emperor Gaozong in later Southern Song dynasty), escaped to the south and then established the Southern Song dynasty at a new capital at Hangzhou, Zhejiang province. Thus, the loss of half of northern territory and shifting of the capital marked the division of the dynasty into two distinct periods: The Northern Song (960-1127) and the Southern Song (1127-1279). As a fugitive of Song dynasty, the Emperor Huizong and his son, Emperor Huizong, then established Jiaotanxia official kiln (Suburban Altar) in Hangzhou region. Since its loss of access to Northern kilns to create aesthetic elements of ceramics, the Emperor was eager to recreate some of the lost Song dynasty’s splendor. The official Jiaotanxia kiln expanded ideas of creating the ‘guan’ wares by following and developing the forms of northern at the first, but Guan ware is characterized with natural scenic beauty of crackles and coated with various shades and luster in the glaze tones executed by its own ‘new’ tradition.
Nowadays, the enthusiasts of ‘guan’ ware argued on the guan artifacts from Jiaotanxia, and they distinguished between early and later Jiaotanxia wares of Southern Song dynasty. Some scholars believe that Jiaotanxia Guan ware in the earlier one is characterized with a thick clay body and glaze taking the Northern Song tradition, while the later one is Guan ware that shows a thin dark stoneware body with a rich bluish-celadon glaze. With a thin dark clay body coated with a rich bluish-celadon glaze, the present ‘Guan’ vase exhibits its elegant and solemn appearance reflecting the impact of the late Southern Song period (1127–1279) interest in antiquarianism among literati that was likely produced in Jiaotanxia official kiln (Suburban Altar) kiln in Hangzhou region. The Guan ware is one of the most precious and highly valued object that was sent for the imperial court at 臨安 Lin’an (modern day 杭州Hangzhou), in Zhejiang province. Compared to the green celadon wares produced in Longquan kiln during Song and Yuan dynasty, the present vase features its distinctive characteristics. This vase shows thinly dark stoneware body with unglazed foot ring and purple mouthrim. The current vase also exhibits its rich bluish-grey-green glaze exposing a network of luminous jade-like golden-beige crackles thinning at the edge of vase showing its dark body. These features summarize that this vase is definitely as a Guan yao candidate of late Southern Song dynasty produced around 1127-1279 AD at Jiaotanxia official kiln (Suburban Altar) in Hangzhou region, Zhejiang province. John Ayer also discusses in Chinese Ceramic in The Baur Collection, Vol.1, Geneva, 1999, p. 76 that ‘Guan’ ware is the title since given to the special celadon-glazed wares made for the Southern Song court following its establishment at Hangzhou. At the Jiaotanxia (‘Subtle Altar’) kiln site evidence has been found that at first wares followed the northern tradition, and of somewhat later wares have a characteristically thin dark stoneware body bearing many layers of a rich bluish-grey-green glaze of striking quality, in which a pattern of crackle lines was often induced, in an effect thought to recall the qualities of antiques jade
Jiaotanxia Guan ware of Southern Song dynasty is among the critical issue in study of Chinese ceramics evoking a great mystery debated for centuries because of different interpretations of historical and limitations of archaeological excavations. Jiaotanxia Guanyao kiln in the suburbs of Hangzhou firstly was discovered in 1930, and completely was excavated between 1984 and 1986. For archaeological evidence, Guan fluted vases coated with bluish celadon glaze, dated to Southern Song period in 12th -13th century A.D, were found in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province. For examples, a bluish Guan fluted vase without molded design and handles was excavated from a hoard in Suining, Sichuan province, illustrated in Newly Discovered Southern Song Ceramics: A Thirteenth-Century “Time Capsule,” Tokyo, 1998, pl. 16, p. 26 (see fig. 3); another from National Palace Museum, is illustrated in Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of Sung Dynasty Kuan Ware, Taipei, 1989, no. 55, p. 93 (see fig. 4).
The Guan vase in the forms of the past relicts specifically was produced for the Southern Song court and the favorite of Emperor Huizong from the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279 AD). In later reign of Ming to Qing dynasties, the Song Guan vases were appreciated as a golden treasure for emperors. In eighteenth century, some Qing connoisseurs claimed that as a result of magical transmutation in the kiln, Song ceramics exhaled a “strange fragrance after long years” even changing their scent with the turnover of the imperial ruling house. Guan vase from the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279) drew attention to Qianlong Emperor. The emperor avidly collected Guan vase of southern Song as a memorial to congratulate its quality and rarity. In 1742 Qianlong commanded Tang Ying to make a type of hanging vase suitable for a sedan chair, with emperor’s poem that is inscribed on it, “Guan ware and those of Ruzhou are famous classes of ceramics. Yet the shapes of the new vases are even more admirable.” (See also: Robert Finlay notes in Pilgrim Art: Cultures of Porcelain in World History, University of California, 2010, pp. 120-121).
The current vase exhibits an exceptional quality of Guan ware of Southern Song dynasty that might be expected as a vessel intended for imperial appreciation. Compared to other common ‘Guan’ vases of Southern Song dynasty, the current piece exhibits its uniqueness and rarity. Modelled with ovoid body softly molded with a wide band of scrolling peonies and planked by a pair of double beast head handles around the neck resembling the archaic hu-shaped bronze, the present vase is extremely rare and no closely example appears to be recorded even though it bears similar characteristics with the more commonly seen on Guanyao vases. This Guanyao of Jiaotanxia resembling the archaic hu-shaped vase become perhaps the most desirable and certainly one of the rarest types of Chinese Jiaotanxia ‘Guan’ ceramics. This vase ascertains potters of Southern Song dynasty at the height of their acumen, technical know-how and aesthetic vision.
After five decades of sporadic warfare, Southern Song dynasty was conquered by Kublai Khan’s troops in 1279. Mongol also led to a reunification of Southern and Northern kilns under the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368). In early Yuan dynasty, the tradition of ceramic production from Northern and Southern Song dynasty was continued. The attainments of this molded Guan vase Southern Song likely attracted the attention to craftsmen of Yuan dynasty in creating the monochrome celadon wares at Longquan kiln in Zhejiang province. The Longquan potters of Yuan dynasty resumed and inherited this highly valued shape and molded design of Guan ware deriving from Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279). For example, two closely related shape and molded peony design on longquan celadon vase dated to Yuan dynasty appear to have been published, one in the Zhejiang Provincial Museum, illustrated in Celadons from Longquan Kilns, Taipei, 1998, pl. 156, another from the National Museum of Korea, is published in Ye Peilan, Yuandai ciqi [Yuan dynasty porcelain], Beijing, 1998, pl. 454. See a closely shape and molded peony design to a Yuan longquan celadon ring-handled vase, sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 8th October 2013, lot. 3010 (see fig. 5); Another was sold at Christie’s New York, 19th March 2009, lot. 707 (see fig. 6). Compare to the similar shape and peony design on Longquan’ bottle vase, dated to Yuan period, sold at Sotheby’s London, 10th November 2010 (26 cm in height) (see fig. 7). Two undecorated Longquan vases of the present form but with flattened ribbed handles dated to the 13th/14th century from the Topkapi Saray Museum, Istanbul, is illustrated in Chinese Ceramics in the Topkapi Saray Museum, London, 1986, pp. 220-221, nos. 200 and 201. One in the Metropolitan Museum is illustrated in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The World’s Great Collections Oriental Ceramics vol. 12, fig. 63.
Most Jiaotanxia Guan yao vases of Southern Song dynasty are undecorated and they rely on aesthetic form with a wide range of different stunning bluish-celadon glaze tone. There is no exactly similar hu-shaped guan vase molded with peony design like the present vase to be recorded although it bears similar characteristics with the more commonly seen on different ‘guan’ vessel forms. Even though there is no exactly similar molded design on Jiaotanxia Guan vase, but the molded technique of other design on Guan dish appears to have been recorded in the renowned museum. See a Jiaotanxia ‘Guan’ dish with molded design of dragon (height: 4.2, diameter of mouth: 18.5 x 18.7 cm), dated Southern Song dynasty, 12th – 13th century, from National Palace Museum, Taipei (see fig. 8). Truly, the present hu-shaped ‘Guanyao’ vase molded with a scrolling peony design was not only intended to emulate the past grandeur of bronze ritualistic vessel (hu), but it also historically represented the reversion of Emperor Huizong’s lost supremacy of throne and it culturally evoked the warm feeling of renewal and the return of flowers, the warmer weather and optimism in the court of the Southern Song dynasty.
李庆新 (Li Qingqin), 海上丝绸之路英 (Maritime Silk Road), Translated by William W. Wang, China International Press, 2006, p. 87.
Marsha Ackerman-Schroeder-Terry-Hwa Lo-Mark, Encyclopedia of World History, The Ancient World: Prehistoric to 600 C.E, Facts on File Publishing Ltd, New York, 2008, p. 375.
Chinese Bronze: Art and Ritual, Rawson J, London, 1987, Cat.no. 29.
Support Vector Machine in Chemistry, Chen Nianyi, Lu Wencong and Yang Jie, World Scientific Publishing Singapore, 2004, p. 245.
Nan Song Hangzhou Xiuneisi guanyao yanjiu, Ma Yizhao, Hangzhou, 2006, pl. 112, p. 148
Chinese Ceramic in The Baur Collection, Vol.1, John Ayer. Geneva, 1999, p. 76.
Pilgrim Art: Cultures of Porcelain in World History, Robert Finlay, University of California, 2010, pp. 120-121.
Newly Discovered Southern Song Ceramics: A Thirteenth-Century “Time Capsule,” Tokyo, 1998, pl. 16, p. 26.
Yuandai ciqi [Yuan dynasty porcelain], Beijing, Ye Peilan, 1998, pl. 454.
Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of Sung Dynasty Kuan Ware, Taipei, 1989, no. 55, p. 93.
Chinese Ceramics in the Topkapi Saray Museum, London, 1986, pp. 220-221, nos. 200 and 201.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The World’s Great Collections Oriental Ceramics vol. 12, fig. 63.