Guan-type Cong-Shaped Ceramic: Historic, Characteristic and Eclectic Ware of Song Dynasty

Some collectors assume that the originality of art or antique confirming its exact artist and period would rely on its provenance. Provenance is considered being able to confirm whether an art or antique is genuinely of the period it seems to date from. They also believe that provenance could establish the authorship and authenticity of an object, resolve ownership disputes, and increases its value or their investment. The present piece in inherited by Liem Ing Nio’ (1911 – 1979) from her great-grandfather living in Sumatra (Srivijaya) in a century ago when Srivijaya empire was in a golden era. Her father, along with his family, moved to Solo, Central Java, in 1915 to seek more opportunity of his trading activities by approaching King Pakubuwono family of Solo Palace in Central Java, which had close relationship with Dutch government during the colonial periods. After she passed away in 1979, some of her properties, including the current vase, were acquired by her descents. Her descents are now living in several regions, including abroad, Singapore. However, whatever its provenance tells, it is not sufficient to claim its legitimate authenticity of the period on the present artifact. Provenance, however, is not a structural fictional novel, travelogue, biography documents or storytelling about the concerned art or antique.

Guan-type Cong-Shaped Ceramic: Historic, Characteristic and Eclectic Ware of Song Dynasty
Guan-type Cong-Shaped Ceramic: Historic, Characteristic and Eclectic Ware of Song Dynasty

As the present antique was created spanning from hundreds or thousands of years ago, it is not possible being able to dig its provenance precisely because of the lost of its tracks for hundreds, even thousands of years ago. The strong provenance of antique ideally should be able to reveal critical information of archaeology that could thematically expresses its surface of history to the piece. This method is the best way to support authenticity of its period and artist. The present Chinese Cong-shaped vase that was acquired from Sumatra area should be researched by linking it with its inevitable history sources of Srivijaya, the characteristics and other specific features of the piece based on scholars’ references and reputable museums. The author also attempts to appreciate its financial worth when we value it as valuable heritage and investment by comparing with the similar pieces and period in the art market.

Rewinding back a few hundred or thousand years in history of Southeast Asia, the exotic and flourishing empire of Srivijaya kingdom in Asia existed. Srivijaya, one of the world’s ancient and technologically advanced empires dominated over the coast of the Sumatra, Malay Peninsula, Western Java, Western Borneo (Kalimantan), and the Kra Isthmus (Thailand) in 12th century. As the ancient Kingdom, which was from 1st to 13th century, “Srivijaya was an explosion of creativity, wealth and power in archipelago that made it the envy of the world.” As the third wealthiest century kingdom in the world after Abbasid caliph and Java kingdom, Chinese porcelain or ceramic, and fragments of it could be found all over the Srivijaya areas. The ceramic fragments show that Chinese-Indonesian contacts had existed spanning for almost at least two millennia in the context of inter-Asian trade and migration. For example, in Sumatra island, the find of potsherds of Chinese ceramics in the site of Muara Jambi and in the surroundings will support the account of the Chinese annals stating the relation between China and Srivijaya during the Tang and the Song periods. In addition, when we walk go into the jungle to visit the difference temples of Batanghari, it will be no surprise if we are crossing the shards of Chinese porcelains surface finds. Those shards usually are from the Song or Yuan dynasty. Such shards could be found also in the holes of excavation when the official workers are cleaning or doing something to fix the ruins.1) Now, let’s research and celebrate the Guan-type Cong-shaped vase of Southern Song dynasty that was handed down from generation to generation in the archipelago.

Description

elegantly modelled after the form of archaic Neolithic jade, with the square body rising from a short slightly flared circular foot to a sloping shoulder and short straight mouth, modelled to each corner with raised horizontal bands within a raised rectangular panel, covered all over in many layers of a lustrous celadon bluish-green glaze suffused with an attractive irregular grey iron-colored crackles interspersed with small golden ones in reminiscent of the fissures in jade, the glaze thinning dark at the projecting edges, mouth rim and foot exposing a dark body of the vessel “purple mouth and iron-colored foot”.

Research

The current Cong-shape vase (cong shi ping) is modelled after a jade cong ritual prototype dated to the  Neolithic  period,  Liangzhu  Culture  in  the Yangtze River Delta of China in the 3400 – c. 2250 BC. The prototype sample is from Fogg Art Museum.2) (See fig.  2).  The prototype is to have been symbols of political sovereignty or possibly religious supremacy where it had the religious or cosmic sense in early periods. A cong is a vessel, square on the outside modelled to each corner with raised horizontal bands within a raised rectangular panel, which in later Chinese literature the cong represents the earth. As early as the Song Dynasty, the Imperial court was enchanted with archaic objects and numerous wares produced in resemblance of ancient forms, including that of the current cong-shaped vase.

Compared to the standard green celadon wares that was produced in Longquan kiln during Song to Yuan dynasties, the present cong-shaped vase features its distinctive characteristics. This vessel has a dark blackish body containing a high concentration of iron that is visible at the foot with purple mouthrim and the thinning glaze visibly at the edge of the vessel. Coated with lustrous celadon bluish-green glaze, the glaze exposes an attractive irregular bold iron-colored crackles or “iron wires” interspersed with thin yellowish crackles or “golden threads.” These features summarize that this cong-shaped vase was created deliberately to emulate the famous crackles and dark body ‘Ge’ vessel’s style of Southern Song dynasty from Jiaotanxia Guanyao kiln site in Hangzhou region or Xiuneisi Guanyao kiln site in Laohudong region. The present vessel with fine crackles was made at the Longquan kilns in the Southern Song dynasty. Rosemary Scott also suggests that two Zhejiang kilns have traditionally been accepted as producing Southern Song guan ware. Longquan kilns Located in Zhejiang province, the vessels produced are recognizable by their appellation as a celadon glaze ware. The Longquan ceramic industry rose to prominence during the Southern Song period (A.D. 1127-1279) when the imperial court resided in Hangzhou in Zhejiang province that became a major patron of local kilns.3) Thus, the current vase with its pleasing proportion, thick even grayish-green celadon glaze with fine crackles and impressive form is amongst the finest early individual pieces evidently made at Longquan kiln in Zhejiang province in 12th – 13th century. In Japan, the deep celadon glaze color like on the present piece was so-called ‘kinuta celadon’, after mallet kinuta-shaped vases that was highly prized.

As its sublimity and rarity, however, such this Guan-type cong-shaped vase of Song dynasty have been a perennial pursuit from Japanese connoisseurs and collectors for its millenary civilization and illustrious history of southern Song dynasty. An important Guan Cong-shaped vase in similar to the current piece provided a clue of luck and success to a Chinese art connoisseur and dealer from Japan, Mr. Sakamoto Gorō (1923–2016). Sotheby’s Hong Kong, in 8th April 2014, issued an important press release. The celebrated Asian art connoisseur, collector and dealer from Japan, Sakamoto Gorō (1923–2016), had been down the drain in establishing an art dealer in Japan before becoming a connoisseur. In long span of almost seventy years in his career as an antiques dealer, Mr. Sakamoto Gorō achieved his success to be a legendary Chinese art connoisseur and collector. One of his first successes was the purchase of Southern Song Guan ware in the shape of an ancient jade cong. At the later, he sold it to connoisseur Mr. Hirota Matsushige who in turn later donated the piece to the Tokyo National Museum.4) Compare to similar cong-shaped vase from the Tokyo National Museum, attributed as Guan Cong-shaped vase of Song dynasty (see fig. 3). Another (22.6 cm in height) attributed to Southern Song dynasty produced in Laohudong – Jiaotanxia kiln,, from British Museum.5)

The standard Longquan plain green-glazed cong-shaped vessels like the present form, but in gray body were widely produced at the Longquan kiln in Zhejiang province in the Song dynasty. Some important standard Longquan celadon cong-shaped vases of Song dynasty like the present cong form are published and collected in several renowned museums throughout the world. An example in the Indianapolis Museum of Art gifted by Mr. and Mrs. Eli Lilly, (see fig. 4)6); another is from the Qing Court collection in the Palace Museum Hong Kong; 7) one is in the Idemitsu Museum of Arts, Tokyo;8) one is from Asian Art Museum of San Francisco;9) another is from National Palace Museum Taiwan;10); another is from the Shanghai Museum;11) one from the Oppenheim collection and now is in the British Museum, London (see fig.  5);12) compare with a standard celadon cong-shape vase (24 cm in height) sold at Sotheby’s London, 13th May 2015, lot. 106, for GBP 197,000, initially estimated between GBP 40,000 – GBP 60,000 (see fig. 6); another from A Japanese Private Collection, sold at Sotheby’s London, 5 November 2012, lot. 23. Another, compare with a similar shape but in standard celadon glaze from Yousaian Collection, Japan, sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 28 May 2014, lot. 3402, for HK$ 3,640,000, initially estimated between HK$ 1,500,000 – HK$ 2,000,000 (see fig. 7). Again, compare with a standard celadon-glazed cong-shaped vase dated to Song dynasty from a Japanese private collection, sold at Sotheby’s London, 5th November 2014, lot. 23, for GBP 242,500, initially estimated between US$ 25,000 – 30,000 (see fig. 8).

Modelled after a ritual archaic prototype in dark body coated with thick bluish-green celadon glaze suffused with a network of dark grey craquelure and finer golden crackles, the present Song dynasty Ge-type celadon vase is rarely published and highly value compared to that of standard celadon glaze. As a treasured vessel, Ge-type wares of Southern Song dynasty were much imitated by potters at Jingdezhen kilns in the Qing dynasty, where they are made of white porcelain coated with blackish-brown slip before glazing. Nigel Wood A & C Black discuss that it is different with Ge or Guan-type made at Jingdezhen on later reigns, deriving from Ming to Qing dynasties. Deliberately discolored porcelains were used for the bodies of these ‘Jingdezhen Guan or Ge’ wares, sometimes with iron pigment banded onto their footring and rims to satisfy ‘the purple rims and iron feet’ criteria of the Zhejiang original.13) For the Qing examples from the Qianlong vases have been published: one from Edward T. Chow Collection, Part III, that was sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 19 May 1981, lot 503; another from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.14)

Bibliography

  1. Mikasa no Miya Takahito. Cultural and Economic Relations Between East and West: Sea Routes, Bulletin of the Middle Eastern Culture Center in Japan, Vol. 2, H.I.H. Prince Takahito Mikasa, Otto Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden, 1988, p. 111.

  2. Ancient Chinese Jades from the Grenville L. Winthrop Collection in the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1975), ca no. 236, p. 181.

  3. Rosemary Scot, “Guan or Ge Ware: A re-examination of some pieces in the Percival David Foundation”, Oriental Art, Summer 1993, Vol. XXXIX, pp. 16- 19.

  4. Sotheby’s Press Release, Chinese Art through the Eye of Sakamoto Gorō – The Clark Ding, based  on  Sakamoto  Gorō,  ed.  Julia Meech, Eight Parts Full: A Life in the Tokyo Art Trade, Special Issue of Impressions, Japanese Art Society of America, 201

  5. Krahl & Harrison-Hall, Chinese Ceramics: Highlights of the Sir Percival David Collection, London, BMP, 2009, pp 42-43, no.16 (p.94, base).

  6. Y. Mino and Tsiang, Ice and Green Clouds, Traditions of Chinese Celadon, Indianapolis, 1986, no. 74.

  7. Porcelain of the Song Dynasty (II), The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Hong Kong, 1996, p 97.

  8. Idemitsu Museum of Arts, the 15th Anniversary Catalogue, 1981, no.

  9. He Li, Chinese Ceramics: The New Standard Guide, Gardners Books, 1996, p.159, no. 28

  • Catalogue of Sung Dynasty Porcelain in the National Palace Museum: Lung-ch’uan Ware, Ko Ware and Other Wares, Taiwan, 1974, p 8 and 9.

  • The exhibition Gems of Liangzhu Culture, Hong Kong Museum of History, 1992, ca no. 57.

  • Jessica Rawson, The British Museum Book of Chinese Art, London, 1992, p 8.

  • Nigel Wood, Chinese Glazes: Their Origins, Chemistry, and Recreation, Their Origin, Chemistry and Recreation, London, 1999, pp. 85 – 87.

  • The Hoyt Memorial Exhibition, February 13 – March 30, 1952, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Catalogue, no. 469.

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