The vase is 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 outside and inside with many layers of a lustrous glaze of bluish-green tone suffused with an attractive irregular grey iron-colored crackles in reminiscent of the fissures in jade and the groove of cobwebs crisscross., the glaze thinning at the projecting edges showing dark rusty color, with mouth rim and foot exposing a dark body of the vessel “purple mouth and iron-colored foot”.
The current Cong-shape vase (cong shi ping) is modelled after a ritual-Cong jade dated to the Neolithic period, Liangzhu Culture in the Yangtze River Delta of China in the 3400 – c. 2250 BC. The prototype is included in Ancient Chinese Jades from the Grenville L. Winthrop Collection in the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1975), cat. no. 236, p. 181. (See fig. 1). Neolithic ritual-Cong jade 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 jade vessel in square, and on the outside is 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 forms of archaic past objects and the numerous wares were then produced in resemblance of those ancient forms, including that of the current cong-shaped vase. The present vase represents the archaic interest of the Northern Song emperor Huizong (r. 1101-1125) who was keen collector of both jade and bronze of previous periods.
When Jurchen Jin troops took over the capital, Emperor Huizong, accompanied by one of the sons, Emperor Gaozong (高宗), escaped to the south and established the Southern Song dynasty (1179 – 1279 AD) in city of Hangzhou. The Emperor then established the official kilns and promoted the greatest antiquity of past ritualistic relics that were emulated in refined ceramics and carried into the preference of the Southern Song court for display. During the Southern Song dynasty (1179 – 1279 AD), the most sophisticated high-fired celadon stonewares constructed with more complicated and refined body of vessels were also produced at Longquan kiln. Located in Zhejiang province, Song dynasty escalated and controlled the production of celadon wares. The production of refined celadon vessels was stimulated by an expanded economy and market for luxury goods and by a growth in connoisseurship and collecting on the part of the new class of scholar-officials. The styles of celadon ‘Guan’ wares were simultaneously produced both in Northern Song dynasty and Southern Song dynasty. As the famous crackled Jiaotanxia ‘Guan’ monochromatic wares of Southern dynasty in 13th century, Longquan kilns set a high value on ‘Guan’ wares by producing guan-type wares in similar characteristics to classic ‘Guan’ wares from Jiaotanxia kiln of Hangzhou region. It is pretty difficult to precisely ascertain whether the crackled Guan wares were produced at Longquan kiln or Jiaotanxia kiln.
However, the current vase was likely created at Longquan kiln deliberately to emulate the ‘Guan’ vessel’s style of Southern Song dynasty from Jiaotanxia Guanyao kiln site in Hangzhou region or Xiuneisi Guanyao kiln site in Laohudong region. Rosemary Scott in “Guan or Ge Ware: A re-examination of some pieces in the Percival David Foundation”, Oriental Art, Summer 1993, Vol. XXXIX, p. 16- 19 notes that fine crackled wares were also made at the Longquan kilns in the Southern Song dynasty. She 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. Therefore, the current vase with its pleasing proportion, thick of a lustrous glaze of bluish-green tone suffused with fine crackles and impressive form is amongst the finest pieces evidently made at Longquan kiln in Zhejiang province in 12th – 13th century.
The current Longquan celadon ‘Guan-type’ cong-shaped vessel is one the Guan-type vessels highly treasured. Compared to the standard green celadon wares produced in Longquan kiln during Song to Yuan dynasty, 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 dark rusty edges of the vessel. It has a lustrous glaze of bluish-green tone suffused with the natural dark grey crackles, which the crackles crisscross like the groove of cobwebs. These features summarize that this Longquan celadon cong-shaped vase was created deliberately to emulate the famous crackles and dark body ‘Guan’ vessel’s style of Southern Song dynasty produced at Jiaotanxia Guanyao kiln site in Hangzhou region or Xiuneisi Guanyao kiln site in Laohudong region.
As its sublimity, 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), when he acquired a cong-shaped Guan ware. Mr. Hirota Matsushige then donated it to the Tokyo National Museum. Compare to a smaller Guan cong-shaped vase with similar pattern and is attributed to Southern Song dynasty produced in Laohudong – Jiaotanxia kiln, from the Tokyo National Museum (see fig. 2). Another (22.6 cm in height) attributed to Southern Song dynasty produced in Laohudong – Jiaotanxia kiln, from British Museum, is illustrated in Chinese Ceramics: Highlights of the Sir Percival David Collection, Krahl & Harrison-Hall, London, BMP, 2009, pp 42-43, no.16 (p.94, base) (see fig. 3).
The cong-shaped vessels like the present form are mostly in the standard Longquan green-glazed pieces with gray body that were widely produced at the Longquan kiln in Zhejiang province in the Song period. Some important cong-shaped vases with standard Longquan celadon glaze of Song dynasty are published and preserved in the renowned museums throughout the world. One example is from the Indianapolis Museum of Art gifted by Mr. and Mrs. Eli Lilly, illustrated by Y. Mino and K. Tsiang, Ice and Green Clouds, Traditions of Chinese Celadon, Indianapolis, 1986, no. 74 (see fig. 4); another in the Qing Court collection is illustrated in Porcelain of the Song Dynasty (II), The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Hong Kong, 1996, pl. 97; one is in the Idemitsu Museum of Arts, Tokyo, illustrated in The 15th Anniversary Catalogue, 1981, no. 667; one from Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, is illustrated in Chinese Ceramics, The New Standard Guide, He Li, p. 159, no. 280; another is included in the Catalogue of Sung Dynasty Porcelain in the National Palace Museum: Lung-ch’uan Ware, Ko Ware and Other Wares, Taiwan, 1974, pls. 8 and 9; another from the Shanghai Museum, is included in the exhibition Gems of Liangzhu Culture, Hong Kong Museum of History, 1992, cat. no. 57; one from the Oppenheim collection and now in the British Museum, London, is published in The British Museum Book of Chinese Art, Jessica Rawson, London, 1992, pl. 8 (see fig. 5); compare with a standard celadon cong-shape vase (24 cm in height) sold at Sotheby’s London, 13th May 2015, lot. 106 (see fig. 6); another from a Japanese Private Collection, was sold at Sotheby’s London, 5 November 2012, lot. 23; see with a similar shape but in standard celadon glaze from Yousaian Collection, Japan, sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 28 May 2014, lot. 3402; another with dated to Song dynasty from a Japanese private collection, sold at Sotheby’s London, 5th November 2014, lot. 23.
Modelled after a Neolithic ritual-Cong jade made of a dark body of stoneware coated with a thick lustrous glaze of bluish-green tone suffused a network of dark grey craquelure crackles, the present Guan-type celadon vase of Song dynasty is rarely published and more highly value than that of standard celadon glaze. As a treasured vessel, Guan-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 in Chinese Glazes: Their Origins, Chemistry, and Recreation, Their Origin, Chemistry and Recreation, London, 1999, pp. 85 – 87 that it is different with Ge or Guan-type made at Jingdezhen on later reigns, 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. For the Qing examples, 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.
Guan or Ge Ware: A re-examination of some pieces in the Percival David Foundation, Oriental Art, Rosemary Scott, Summer 1993, Vol. XXXIX, p. 16- 19.
Chinese Ceramics: Highlights of the Sir Percival David Collection, Krahl & Harrison-Hall, London, BMP, 2009, pp 42-43, no.16 (p.94, base).
Ice and Green Clouds, Traditions of Chinese Celadon, Y. Mino and K. Tsiang, Indianapolis, 1986, no. 74.
Porcelain of the Song Dynasty (II), The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Hong Kong, 1996, pl. 97.
The 15th Anniversary Catalogue, Idemitsu Museum of Arts, Tokyo, 1981, no. 667.
Chinese Ceramics, The New Standard Guide, He Li, p. 159, no. 280.
Catalogue of Sung Dynasty Porcelain in the National Palace Museum: Lung-ch’uan Ware, Ko Ware and Other Wares, Taiwan, 1974, pls. 8 and 9.
Gems of Liangzhu Culture, Hong Kong Museum of History, 1992, cat. no. 57.
The British Museum Book of Chinese Art, Jessica Rawson, London, 1992, pl. 8.
Chinese Glazes: Their Origins, Chemistry, and Recreation, Their Origin, Chemistry and Recreation, London, 1999, pp. 85 – 87