Song dynasty: An Exceptional Moon White Junyao ‘Chicken-Head Spout’ Ewer

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DESCRIPTION.

This ewer is sturdily potted with a cylindrical body rising to a waisted neck flaring to a trumpet-shaped mouth, applied to the shoulder with two wing-shaped handles with a short spout in the form of a chicken-head, and three ring-shaped twisted handle grasping the below mouth rim of the ewer, covered all over with thickly ‘moon-white’ glaze of milky lavender blue splashed with a splendid irregular dark brown pattern at the raised edge sections and around the body forming an abstract design of long chicken’s tails and feathers, the glaze melting and stopping above the unglazed footring exposing the golden-brown body.

RESEARCH & ESSAY.

As one of the ‘five famous stoneware of the Song dynasty’, Junyao vessel was much admired for the beauty of its shape and glaze effect. Junyao is the name deriving from the kiln near Juntai terrace within the north gate of the Yuzhou prefecture in Henan province. Jun ware is coated by a wide range of glaze comprising from moon-white to sky-blue, and the kind of this ware was produced from the end of the Northern Song to the Ming dynasties.

The form of the present ewer is highly impressive that is modelled after the chicken-headed ewer prototype of bronze tripod spouted ewer of Eastern Zhou period (5th – 3rd century, published in Bronze tripod spouted ewer, Eastern Zhou period, 5th-3rd century B.C, illustrated in Wen wu (Cultural Relics), Wen wu chu ban she, China, 1972:11, pl. II:1 (see fig. 1). In later periods the prototype was then emulated in the form or potteries, especially Yue green or-black glazed wares from Eastern Jin dynasty東晉 in 4th – 5th century (317 – 420 AD) to Southern Dynasties (420–589 AD). The ceramic prototype samples of this form, one was excavated from a tomb in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province dated 364 AD, and now is the collection of Zhejiang Provincial Museum, included and illustrated in Zhongguo wenwu jinghua daquan: taoci juan (Compendium of Chinese Archaeological Treasures: Ceramics Section), Hong Kong, 1993, no. 111. Another, black-glazed chicken-headed ewer dated to 4th – 5th century AD, was excavated in the Nanjing area, Jiangsu province, included in Celadon Ware of the Six Dynasties, Gems of Collections in Nanjing Museum, Shanghai, 1999, pl. 9 (see fig. 2). Another is published in Chūgoku no Tōji, “Special Exhibition Chinese Ceramics,” Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, 1994, no. 54, p. 45. Another, a celadon chicken-head ewer, 4th – 5th Century, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, illustrated in A Handbook of Chinese Ceramics, Suzanne G. Valenstein. New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1989, color pl. #2 (see fig. 3).

Under the Emperor Huizong (1101-1125 AD) of Northern Song reign, the ancient bronze ritual vessels were frequently and deliberately emulated to satisfy the emperor and clienteles abroad in Asia countries. In 1127 AD the invading Juchen ended the Song dynasty and sacked the Song capital (Kaifeng), and the northern kilns was under Jin dynasty. Therefore, during Northern Song (960-1127) and Jin (1115-1234) periods, the potters revived the earlier wares on the famous five classic wares style based on their own fashion, including on this Jun chicken-head ewer. An ewer with chicken-head spout like the present form, Song dynasty 11th – 12th century, from British Museum, is illustrated in Chinese Pottery and Porcelain: From Prehistory to the Present, Shelagh J Vainker, London, BMP, 1991, p. 112; fig.82 (see fig. 4).

 Produced at Jun kilns in Henan province during the late Northern Song to Yuan dynasty, Junyao wares are highly prized throughout Chinese dynasty history. Jun wares were produced in variety of form and glaze color effects that are found in some of the renowned international museums and private collections of Chinese art.  The present ewer is coated with a pale sky-blue glaze that is frequently referred by Western scholars to as ‘moon-white,’ jun glaze. This Jun ewer has a unique form and unusual vivid and spontaneous black brown splash effect on moon-white glaze, which the Jun wares are prevalently adorned with their famous purple-splashed patterns or plain undecorated. Meanwhile, a dark brown splashes motif like on the present piece is a technique that was firstly invented in the early Yuezhou kilns during the late Western Jin dynasty, (266–316 AD) and became prolific in the later reigns, including Changsha potteries of Tang dynasty and then Northern Song to Yuan dynasty, decorated on celadon, white and Qingbai glazed wares.

The present unique ewer was used for tea drinking ceremony during Norterh Song/Jin dynasty. With its captivating a dramatic dark brown splash on the exterior, applied to form an abstract pattern of chicken’s tails and feathers on moon-white glaze, it makes the present Jun ewer in dynamic posture showing its chicken-headed spout live, elegant and graceful. The present piece is exceptional, and it is rare to find a Norther Song/Jin Jun ewer of this form and decoration, and no other examples appear to have been published. Other Junyao ewer with different shape and ornament is sold in the market. Compare with a Junyao ewer (30.2 cm), dated Song-Yuan dynasty, sold at Christie’s New York, 20th March 2015, lot. 826, for USD 221,000, initially estimated between USD 30,000 – USD 50,000 (see fig. 5).

Citation:

  1. Wen wu (Cultural Relics), Wen wu chu ban she, China, 1972:11, pl. II:1.

  2. Zhongguo wenwu jinghua daquan: taoci juan (Compendium of Chinese Archaeological Treasures: Ceramics Section), Hong Kong, 1993, no. 111.

  3. Celadon Ware of the Six Dynasties, Gems of Collections in Nanjing Museum, Shanghai, 1999, pl. 9.

  4. Chūgoku no Tōji, “Special Exhibition Chinese Ceramics,” Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, 1994, no. 54, p. 45.

  5. A Handbook of Chinese Ceramics, Suzanne G. Valenstein. New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1989, color pl. #2.

  6. Chinese Pottery and Porcelain: From Prehistory to the Present, Shelagh J Vainker, London, BMP, 1991, p. 112; fig.82.

CATALOGUE ENTRY.

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