Song dynasty: A Fine Lobed and Carved ‘Peony’ Yaozhou Ewer

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DESCRIPTION.

This ewer is finely potted in a melon-shaped body with an elongated six-lobed body surmounted by a waisted neck and flared rim, set with a tall arched handle opposite a curved spout, each lobe deftly carved and incised with a full bloom peony flower head and leafy foliate meander in arabesque style, similarly repeated at the lower section encircled by a border of raised ribs at the middle between lotus petals around the above foot and stiff plantain leaves pattern above two double-line bands around the neck, covered overall in a olive green glaze color pooling to a deeper tone in the recessed areas and stopping at falling off the edge of finely cut unglazed footring revealing a gray-colored stoneware body,

RESEARCH & ESSAY.

Yaozhou ware is a term for Chinese celadon or greenware produced in Yaozhou kiln at Huangbaozhen, Shaanxi province. The kiln initially was established under Tang dynasty (618 – 907 AD) and it reached its peak during the Northern Song dynasty (960 – 1279 AD). Jars, bowls, vases, dishes, ewers, cups and small bottles are the common products of Yaozhou kilns. In the earliest period of Song dynasty, Yaozou wares were executed in slightly simple design showing still amateur on layout and patterns. In the second stage, the height of development of the Yaozhou ware was achieved. The clay body of Yaozhou ware is thinly potted and finely grained body coated with a olive-green glaze color with finely cut thin foot ring. By the thinly potted body finely carved and combed on exterior with rhythmic peony petal and foliage, the present ewer is one of Yaozou products seemingly produced in the second stage of Northern Song Dynasty (960 – 1126) period before the conquest from Jin dynasty. When the Northern Song was invaded by Jin dynasty (115 – 1234), the Yaozhou kilns declined, and their wares became inferior and coarse quality compared to that of the earlier wares produced by Yaozhou kilns of Northern Song dynasty.

The form and design techniques of Yaozhou wares commonly inherited and developed from the earlier wares, especially Yue type ware of Tang period. For example, a Yue ewer with incised peony bloom, dated to Tang period, was recovered from Cirebon shipwreck, West Java – Indonesia in 2004. The protype is published and illustrated in Sri Vijaya as the Entrepôt for Circum-Indian Ocean Trade, Evidence from Documentary Records and Materials from Shipwrecks of the 9th-10th Centuries, Dashu Qin & Kunpeng Xiang, Journal Études: océan Indien [En ligne], 2011, pp. 308 – 336, fig. 4 (see fig. 1).

Attached with a tall arched handle opposite a curved spout lively and carved in precision with peony flowers and veins covered with a deep olive-green glaze, the current ewer is an iconic ware of Song ewers that was influenced by the rhythmic linear patterns of scrolling and interlacing foliage of the arabesque artistic decoration. Islamic art was transmitted to China during the Tang (618–907) and Song dynasties (960–1279) via the overland and maritime, and it created the the close affinity between the Islamic art and Chinese art with floral designs at that time. Carving and incising with the floral ornamentation depicted on this vessel also shows the intricacy technique as complex as bronze-casting and precision like that of carving jade. Influenced by arabesque floral design and executed with intricacy technique, the current ewer is one of the ewers intended as a tribute that was commonly used for tea drinking ceremony during the affluent Song dynasty. The tea drinking ceremony remained integral to affluent of literati and noblemen lifestyle during the Song dynasties. Lili Fang, in Chinese Ceramics, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2010, p.48 notes “With its unique local style and quality among porcelain products of its category on northern China, Yaozhou celadon was selected as yearly tribute ware for Northern Song (960 – 1127 AD) court”. Resuming the earlier reign, Tang dynasty, the fine materials used for production of Yaozhou tea ewer quality, the ewer played a greater role and as a pride in nationwide noblemen. A great Chinese tea drinking culture has been developed for thousands of years ago, which took important roles to human life and social development at that time, and became popular in the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) Dynasties. Appreciation of Yaozhou ewers art containing tea drinking among the gentry class flourished during the Song dynasty. The main function of this ewer coated with olive-green glaze was purposed to retain a liquid tea and its dropper for the nobility and scholar’s desk. With its ability to both absorb and preserve heat, the current ewer was judged ideal for tea drinking, as it kept the hot liquid and easy enough to handle.

By the Northern Song dynasty, Yaozhou wares gradually declined as the main product for export since the potters in the Goryeo dynasty in Korea (918 – 1392) were able to develop a similar unique Korean type of celadon wares. Further, for Northern Song kiln’s notable greenish celadon wares with fine body and shape along with ornamental designs, the Longquan kilns also inherited and replaced the traditional technique of green Yaozhou wares. Ewers of the present form with decorations finely carved in exquisitely relief are among the finest Yaozhou wares of Northern Song dynasty produced in the Yaozhou kilns at Huangbao county, Tongchuan city, Shaanxi province. Yaozhou craftsmen achieved an extremely high level of skill for carved decoration on the current piece.

The type of the present Northern Song ‘Yaozhou ewer is rarely found and published in general museums, but the renowned museum in Japan preserves it. For example, a similar form and design to the current carved Yaozhou ewer, dated to Northern Song dynasty 11th century from the Tokyo National Museum, a gift of Dr. Yokogawa Tamisuke found in Korea, is published and illustrated in South East Asian Ceramics Museum Newsletter, Guan Celadons – One of China’s Lost Legendary Kilns Rediscovered, Southeast Asian Ceramics Museum, Thailand, Volume VIII, Number 3, Feb – March 2015, p. 2, Fig. 4 (see fig. 2). Yaozhou ewer of Northern Song dynasty decorated with peony scrolls and covered with an olive-green glaze also appears on different ewer forms. Compare with a Yaozhou ewer attached with two shoulder lugs (25.2 cm in height) covered with an olive-green carved all around the exterior with scrolling peony, from Baur Collection, published and illustrated in Chinese Ceramics in the Baur Collection, Vol. 1, John Ayers, Geneva, 1999, p. 50, fig. 9 (A24). Another (21.5 cm in height) was sold at Sotheby’s London, 10th May 2017, lot. 191, for GBP 50,000, initially estimated between GBP 40,000 – GBP 50,000 (see fig. 3). Compare also with a small ewer from Raymond A. Bidwell collection, published and illustrated in The Raymond A. Bidwell Collection of Chinese Bronzes and Ceramics, Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, Massachusetts, 1965, p. 71, the piece was then sold at Christie’s New York, 21 – 22 March 2013, lot. 1170, for US$ 135,750, initially estimated between US$ 6,000 – US$ 8,000 (see fig. 4). Further, compare with a Yaozhou celadon ewer with a dark olive glaze and carved with peony scroll (12 cm in height), dated to the Northern Song dynasty, was sold at Sotheby’s New York, 18th – 19th March 2014, lot. 215, for US$ 197,000, initially estimated between US$ 200,000 – US$ 300,000 (see fig. 5).

The Yaozhou ewer of Northern Song dynasty like the present is an enhancement of Yue celadon-colored ewer product quality from Zhejiang province. The existence of Yaozhou ewer carved with exquisitely floral design was more popular than that of Yue wares. The popularity of Yaozhou celadon ware was then considered as the rival of Yue wares during Song dynasty (960-1279). Compare with a similar form from ‘Yue’ lobed ewer that is carved with a simple border of raised ribs but without floral design, sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, Thursday, December 03, 2015, lot. 266, for HKD 162,500 or equivalent to US$ 20,967, initially estimated between HKD 80,000 – HKD 120,000 (see fig. 6). Compare also with a related Yaozhou celadon carved ewer (23.2 cm). Northern Song dynasty, 11th/12th century, sold at Christie’s New York, 26th March 2010, lot. 1281, for USD 52,500, initially estimated between USD 7,000 – USD 9,000 (see fig. 7).

Citation:

  1. Sri Vijaya as the Entrepôt for Circum-Indian Ocean Trade, Evidence from Documentary Records and Materials from Shipwrecks of the 9th-10th Centuries, Dashu Qin & Kunpeng Xiang, Journal Études: océan Indien [En ligne], 2011, pp. 308 – 336, fig. 4.

  2. Chinese Ceramics, Lili Fang, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2010, p.48.

  3. South East Asian Ceramics Museum Newsletter, Guan Celadons – One of China’s Lost Legendary Kilns Rediscovered, Southeast Asian Ceramics Museum, Thailand, Volume VIII, Number 3, Feb – March 2015, 2, Fig. 4.

  4. Chinese Ceramics in the Baur Collection, Vol. 1, John Ayers, Geneva, 1999, p. 50, fig. 9 (A24).

  5. The Raymond A. Bidwell Collection of Chinese Bronzes and Ceramics, Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, Massachusetts, 1965, p. 71.

CATALOGUE ENTRY.

Song dynasty