Song dynasty: A Longquan Celadon ‘Ge-Type’ hu-shaped Vase

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DESCRIPTION.

of quatrefoil section body elegantly potted in archaic hu-form vessel, subtly modelled with a bulging body rising from a short slightly splayed foot to a quatrefoil mouthrim flanked by a pair of tubular lug handles at the neck, covered overall in a thick bluish-grey-green glaze tone thinning purple on the edges of the body and rim suffused with a network of dark grey craquelure and finer golden crackles “gold thread and iron wire” stopping short of the unglazed black footrim exposing a dark body of the vessel “purple mouth and iron-colored foot”.

RESEARCH & ESSAY.

The present magnificent vase form was inspired by archaic bronze ‘fanghu’ of Shang dynasty – Early Zhou dynasty (16th century – 1046 BCE). The prototype form inspiring the present vase was excavated in Shangdong, illustrated in Wenwu (Cultural Relics), Wen wu chu ban she, no. 5, 1972, pl. 6, fig. 2; another dated to Shang dynasty, 12th century BCE, from the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the Freer Gallery of Art, is published in Fourteenth Presentation of the Charles Long Medal, Frontpage, J. Rawson, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., October 28, 2017, and another, dated 4th – 5th BCE, from  Minneapolis Institute of Art. Accession Number: 50.46.98 (see fig. 1). Modelled in a quatrefoil section body, this vase represents a significant stylistic development that was popular in the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279) and later reigns.

The present vase is covered with a slightly thick bluish-grey-green glaze tone that gives it like the lustrous and bright finish of fine greenish white jade. As the thick glaze was fired at high temperature, it melted and streamed down through. The glaze suffuses the natural “gold thread and iron wire” double crackles or known in Chinese as jinsi tiexian, which the crackles crisscross like overlapping ice cracks. The lip shows purple color, while the unglazed foot exhibits a dark color representing ‘purple mouth rim and iron foot’, which all the featured have recently been considered as possible Ge-type ware candidates produced at Longquan kiln in Zhejiang province.

The designation of ‘Ge’ ware was discussed in the International Conference on Ge ware that was organized by Professor Wang Qingzheng at the Shanghai Museum in October 1992. The comprehensive discussion of this conference was then reported on an article by Rosemary Scott and S.J. Vainker in Oriental Art, Summer, 1993. The term ’Ge’ ware seemed to occur in 1428 during Xuande reign of early Ming dynasty when it was described as ‘similar to Guan ware’ but this is poor basis on which to make a distinction. In the search for a recognizably different of Guan ware, which might be classified as Ge, oxidized Southern Song and Yuan Guan-types wares, with stained double crackles, have recently been considered as possible Ge ware candidates. It seems likely that both ‘Ge-like’ and ‘Guan-like’ wares could have issued simultaneously from the same kiln – simply showing the natural variations of atmosphere, temperature and cooling that Dragon kilns often provide. (see also: Chinese Glaze, Their Origins, Chemistry and Recreation, Nigel Wood, Craftsman House, Hong Kong, 1999, p. 87).

However, the current vase was likely created deliberately to emulate the ‘Ge’ vessel’s style of Southern Song dynasty from Jiaotanxia Guanyao kiln site in Hangzhou region or Xiuneisi Guanyao kiln site in Laohudong region. Although the present vase is considered as a Ge-type vase of Southern Song dynasty produced at Longquan kiln in Zhejiang province, it has a pleasing and thick bluish-grey-green glaze tone with fine crackles and impressive form that is amongst the finest celadon pieces made at Longquan kiln in Zhejiang province in 12th – 13th century. Located in Zhejiang province, the vessels produced by the longquan kiln sites 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, and it became a major patron of local kilns.  As the famous crackled ‘Ge’ monochromatic wares of Southern dynasty in 13th century, Longquan kilns set a high value on ‘Ge’ or ‘Guan’ wares by producing guan-type or ge-type wares in similar characteristics to classic ‘Guan’ or ‘Ge’ wares from Jiaotanxia kiln of Hangzhou region.

The recognition of Longquan celadon Ge-type vessels of Southern Song dynasty was also discussed by 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. The author 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. For example, see the related ge-type vase from Percival David Foundation, illustrated in A Collector’s Vision: Ceramics for the Qianlong Emperor, London, School of Oriental and African Studies, Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, Pierson, Stacey; Barnes, Amy, 2002, p. 24, no. 15 (see fig. 2). Also, see the related Longquan ‘ge-type’ hu vase of octagonal form covered in yellowish-green glaze (13.1 cm in height), in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, is illustrated by He Li, Chinese Ceramics: A New Comprehensive Survey from the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, New York, 1996, p. 156, no. 262. A similar effect can be seen on ge-type celadon ‘hu’ vase from the Palace Museum Beijing, illustrated in Science and Civilization in China: Volume 5, Chemistry and Chemical Technology, Rose Kerr, Needham & Nigel Wood, 2004, Cambridge University Press, 2004, p. 266 (see fig. 3).

In addition, the Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of Sung Dynasty Kuan Ware, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1989, p. 30 also affirms that according to excavation reports, places the celadon guan-type wares were also made in Longquan kilns, including in Xinting, Aodi and Shanshu Lianshan at Dayao County and Wayaoqing, Kulouwan and Lijiashan at Xikou County. An example was discovered in 1991 in Suining, Sichuan province, amongst a cache of ceramics dating from the late Southern Song period, and is illustrated by Zhu Boqian (ed.), Celadons from Longquan Kilns, Taipei, 1998, p. 155, no. 124.

The Song emperor Huizong (1101-1125) was a keen collector of both earlier bronzes and jades and commissioned ceramic pieces to be made inspired by those archaic bronze ritual vessels in his collection. The shape of quatrefoil section body on the current vase vessel is very rare among existing guan-type and ge-type wares. The present piece probably emulated the Northern Song tradition under emperor Huizong with its more innovative glaze and form, which was made at Longquan kiln in Zhejiang province.  Based on ritual bronze prototype, the ge-type celadon vase like the present hu-shaped vase has caught the interest of collectors and connoisseurs until today. A related form to the present vase is a hu-shaped Guanyao vase covered with thick crackled glaze of bluish gray tone inscribed with an imperial poem (9.8 cm in height), sold at Christie’s New York, 26th March 2010, lot. 1337, for USD 362,500, initially estimated between USD 120,000 – USD 200,000 (see fig. 4). Compare with ‘Ge’ hu-shaped octagonal vase covered in opaque creamy-gray glaze (21.6 cm in height), sold at Sotheby’s New York, 15th September 2010, lot. 304, for USD 1,762,500, initially estimated between USD 400,000 – USD 600,000 (see fig. 5).

The debate of the kinds of Ge or Guan vessels whether were made at Jiaotanxia Hangzhou or Longquan Zhejiang kilns, the present vase was likely produced in the Southern Song dynasty or Yuan dynasty at Longquan kiln in Zhejiang province. As we note that ‘Guan’ or “Ge’ wares of Song dynasty from Hangzhou can also vary in glaze color, from a pale iron-blue, through blue-grey to gray-green. In oxidation they may be creamy, yellowish brown or light brown. In both oxidation and reduction, they can be smooth and stony, of ‘mutton fat’ richness, or simply glassy and icy. 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’ wares, sometimes with iron pigment banded onto their footring and rims to satisfy ‘the purple rims and iron feet’ criteria of the Zhejiang original. (see also: Chinese Glazes: Their Origins, Chemistry, and Recreation, Their Origin, op.cit, pp. 85 – 87. Even though the present hu-shaped vase was produced at Longquan kiln to emulate the Ge ware of Jiaotanxia kiln, but the present vase was produced for those who were sufficiently educated to appreciate its archaistic form deriving from an archaic bronze ‘fanghu’ of Shang dynasty.

Citation:

  1. Wenwu (Cultural Relics), Wen wu chu ban she, no. 5, 1972, pl. 6, fig. 2.

  2. Fourteenth Presentation of the Charles Long Medal, Frontpage, J. Rawson, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., October 28, 2017.

  3. Rosemary Scott and S.J. Vainker in Oriental Art, Summer, 1993.

  4. Chinese Glaze, Their Origins, Chemistry and Recreation, Nigel Wood, Craftsman House, Hong Kong, 1999, p. 87.

  5. “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.

  6. A Collector’s Vision: Ceramics for the Qianlong Emperor, London, School of Oriental and African Studies, Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, Pierson, Stacey; Barnes, Amy, 2002, p. 24, no. 15.

  7. Chinese Ceramics: A New Comprehensive Survey from the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, He Li, New York, 1996, p. 156, no. 262.

  8. Science and Civilization in China: Volume 5, Chemistry and Chemical Technology, Rose Kerr, Needham & Nigel Wood, 2004, Cambridge University Press, 2004, p. 266.

  9. Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of Sung Dynasty Kuan Ware, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1989, p. 30.

  10. Celadons from Longquan Kilns, Zhu Boqian (ed.), Taipei, 1998, p. 155, no. 124.

CATALOGUE ENTRY.

Song Dynasty