Northern Song dynasty: A Carved Yue Celadon ‘Chicken Head’ Ewer

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DESCRIPTION.

This ewer is in elegant ovoid form surmounted by a narrow waisted neck with foliage peony blooms shape mouthrim, flanked by a pair of chicken-head handle appliqué rising from the above shoulders, carved with a band of diamond pattern above a band of carved lotus petals at the shoulder, covered allover with a grayish green glaze applied with randomly brown splashes, ending in an irregular line towards foot exposing the buff body and reddish firing mark on the base.

RESEARCH & ESSAY.

The Yue kilns in northern Zhejiang province developed the high-fired celadon wares dating from Six Dynasties, comprising of Eastern Wu Dynasty (222–280), Jin Dynasty (265–420), Liu Song Dynasty (420–479), Southern Qi Dynasty (479–502), Liang Dynasty (502–557), and Chen Dynasty (557–589). During the Six Dynasties period (A.D. 222-589), the Yue wares would have had an immense variety function, either for daily use, ritual, or entombment with the deceased. Produced with iron oxide as the coloring agent and fired in a reduction atmosphere over 1200 ℃, Yue celadon glaze can range from yellow to grey-green, olive, blue, or blue-green, depending on its glaze compound and conditions of firing.

The impressed and incised decorative elements, including chicken-head applique combined with carved a band of diamond pattern and lotus blossom with brown splashes of the current vessel were, firstly, found on the Yue wares produced in the late Western Jin dynasty era (265-316 AD) and the Southern dynasty period (420–589 AD). A number of Yue-ware ewers and jars from the Western Jin era (265-316 AD), predating the vessels under discussion, incorporate the chicken heads into what became standard decorative themes and sequences. In addition, random brown splashes decoration technique like the current vessel was also invented during the later Western Jin, and became widespread in the Zhejiang kilns in the Eastern and the Southern dynasties period (420–589 AD). Compare with a celadon glaze ewer (29.8 cm) with similar band of carved lotus petals design, dated Six Dynasties, sold at Christie’s London, 2nd October 2003, lot. 302, for GBP 4,113, initially estimated between GBP 1,000 – GBP 1,500 (see fig. 1). Another, dated Southern Dynasties (420 – 589), is included in New Objects/New Insights: Cleveland’s Recent Chinese Acquisitions” The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art 81, Wilson, J. Keith, and Anne E. Wardwell no. 8 1994, pp. 270-347 (see fig. 2). Other example is included in Ice and Green Clouds: Traditions of Chinese Celadon, Yutaka Mino and Katherine R. Tsiang, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, 1987, cat. no. 36 and figs. 36 a-e. See a Yue ware ewer included in the exhibition Vibrant Greens, Celadon Glazes over Two Millennia: Masterpieces from the East Zhejiang Museum of Yue Celadon Ware, Arthur M. Sackler Museum of Art and Archaeology, Peking University, Beijing, 2013, cat. no. 68. Also, see Yue chicken-head ewer of Sothern dynasty, sold at Sotheby’s New York, 17th March 2015, lot. 55, estimated between USD 200,000 – USD 300,000 (see fig. 3).

Yue ware was then developed more sophisticated during the Tang dynasty (618 – 907 AD) to the early Sung dynasty (10th century). The distinctive form of the current ewer with ovoid form surmounted by a narrow waisted neck with foliage peony blooms shape mouthrim closely belong to the Tang or early Song dynasty wares. The variety form of vase with foliage mouthrim (hua kou ping) first seen in the Tang dynasty and became popular in the Song dynasty. Undoubtedly, the better-quality Yue wares like the present ewer represents the better product of Yue wares during Tang dynasty (618 – 907 AD) to Early Northern Song period (960-1126). The production Yue wares picked up again during the mid-Tang period and reached its peak and greatest fame during the Late Tang to Early Northern Song dynasty. The chicken head handle on this celadon ewer resumes the earlier reigns, and alludes to the Chinese word for chicken, which in turn serves as a pun for the word “luck.” While the lotus blossom traced around the body of the vessel has several positive meanings in Chinese tradition.

Citation:

  1. New Objects/New Insights: Cleveland’s Recent Chinese Acquisitions” The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art 81, Wilson, J. Keith, and Anne E. Wardwell no. 8 1994, pp. 270-347.

  2. Ice and Green Clouds: Traditions of Chinese Celadon, Yutaka Mino and Katherine R. Tsiang, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, 1987, cat. no. 36 and figs. 36 a-e.

  3. Vibrant Greens, Celadon Glazes over Two Millennia: Masterpieces from the East Zhejiang Museum of Yue Celadon Ware, Arthur M. Sackler Museum of Art and Archaeology, Peking University, Beijing, 2013, cat. no. 68.

CATALOGUE ENTRY.

Northern Song dynasty