Song dynasty: An Imperial Gongyu-marked Jian “Hare’s Fur” Tenmoku Tea Bowl

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DESCRIPTION.

of a deep-rounded and curved side of conical bowl, quite thickly potted clay body supported on a short straight foot, all sides coated by shiny and finely in silvery rust-colored glaze, in the style known as hare’s fur running down in melting towards at the foot to congeal on cooling into a thick welt of black treacly globules, with a rough edge mouth, and a part of unglazed showing dark brown color incised on the base with a mark of two characters reading “Gong Yu” 供御 (meaning imperial).

RESEARCH & ESSAY.

The vessel of this type is attributed to Jian Ware Tea Bowl with Hare’s Fur Glaze (建窯兔毫盞), which its material is very hard, coarse grained, but well compacted dark brown or blackish stoneware. It’s typical ‘hare’s fur’ markings identifying this beautifully potted bowl, it was a product of the Jian kilns in northern Fujian province during Song dynasty. Mowry, R.D in “Hare’s Fur, Tortoiseshell, and Partridge Feathers, Chinese Brown- and Black-Glazed Ceramics, 400-1400,” Cambridge, Mass. 1995, p. 214 discusses the recent research has suggested that the deep, conical bowls typical of Jian wares were created as the ideal vessel for competitors in the tea-preparing competitions that were popular at this time. In addition, he discusses on his book, op.cit. p. 214, the Song dynasty Emperor Huizong (1082 – 1135) wrote in his treatise on tea Daguan chalun, that: “Tea bowls should be deep and relatively wide at the bottom. If the bottom is deep, later it is easy to mix the tea so that it appears milky white; if it is wide, then it is easy to whip the tea.

Jian ware is oftentimes coated inside and about two-thirds of the way down the outside with a thick glaze colored with iron oxide in varying percentage, about two per cent to ten per cent or more according to the color and glaze effect desired. The edge mouth is roughly executed to satisfy the patron, especially Japanese officials generally bandaged with the silver for a pleasant tea ceremony. Margaret Medley in “The Chinese Potter, A Practical History of Chinese Ceramics,” London, 1999, pp. 162-163 discusses that the Jian wares are called “Tenmoku” bowl since the edge mouth of the temmoku tea bowl is often rough, in which is bound with silver by the Japanese, who found the roughness singularly unpleasant to the lips when drinking tea. This Jian ware belongs to a group of Jian tea bowl that was praised by Zen Buddhist monks from Japan when they studied at Mount Tianmu in China, and they took the examples of Jian tea bowls back to Japan during Southern Song dynasty (1127 – 1279 AD). Yet, this Jian ware inscribed with ‘Gongyu’ was likely intended for important Japanese monks or rulers for tribute.

A sherd of Jianyao tea bowl with ‘gong yu’ mark was discovered at the Jian kilns in Fujian province in 1935, illustrated in Tenmoku: A Study of the Ware of Chien, Plumer, Tokyo, 1972, pl. 50; and other examples of gonyu-marked bowl are published in the cataloque of the special exhibition at MOA Museum, entitled Karamono temmoku: Fukken-shō ken’yō shutsudo temmoku to Nihon densei no temmoku, tokubetsuten, (Temmoku Tea Wares: Temmoku Excavated from the Jian Kilns in Fujian Province and Temmoku in Japanese Private Collections, A Special Exhibition), Atami, 1994, pp.  60–61, nos. 40, 41 and 46.

‘Hare’s fur’ glazed bowls of this imperial gongyu-marked type, which have been passed from hand to hand over the centuries in Asia are rare. This type of hare’s fur glaze tea bowl in similar shape, glaze, and mark from the Kwan Collection, is illustrated in “Song Ceramics from The Kwan Collection,” Hong Kong Museum of Art, 1994, pp. 368-369. Another in the collection of Umberto Draghi, is illustrated in Art Chinois, Néolithique, Dynastie Song, Collection Umberto Draghi, Musée Royal de Mariemont, 1990, pp. 109-110, no. 89. Another with gongyu inscription, in the collection of the Harvard University Art Museum, Boston, is illustrated in Hare’s Fur, Tortoiseshell and Partridge Feathers, Chinese Brown and Black-Glazed Ceramics,400-1400, Robert Mowry, Cambridge, 1996, p.204, no.7 (see fig. 1), and the illustrated bowl was attributed by the author to the kilns at Shuiji, Jianyang count, Fujian province. Another from The British Museum, is illustrated in “Pottery And Porcelain, From Prehistory to the Present,” S.J. Vainker, Published for the Trustees of the British Museum, British Museum Press, London, 1991, p. 121. The piece was also published and illustrated in Chinese Glazes: Their Origins, Chemistry, and Recreation, Nigel Wood, p. 151 (see fig. 2). The author discusses that the ‘hare’s fur’ effect is caused by the bubbling and boiling of the glaze during the firing. Another, with ‘gongyu’ mark, from the Ronald W. Longsdorf Collection, is illustrated by J.J. Lally & Co in Song Dynasty Ceramics, New York, 2013, no.40.

Jian Hare’s fur glazed tea bowl with imperial ‘gongyu’ mark and quality like the present vessel was also one of imperial vessels appreciated and desirable by the Emperor Huizong (1101 – 1125) for the tea drinking at imperial court of Northern Song dynasty. As one of the Song dynasty’s greatest imperial connoisseurs, the emperor was an enthusiastic devotee of Fujianese ‘Jian’ tea bowls as evinced by the laudatory comments in his Daguan chalun (A discourse Tea in the Dragon Era) of 1107 AD (see Robert D. Mowry, Hare’s Fur, Tortoiseshell, and Partridge Feathers, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge Mass., 1996, p. 30). Compare with quality of similar imperial gongyu-marked Jian tea bowl (12.3 cm in size), sold at Bonham’s Hongkong, 9th October 2014, lot. 185, for HK$ 350,000 (see fig. 3a & 3b). Another (12 cm in size), with ‘gongyu’ mark, was sold at Sotheby’s London, 10th May 2017, lot. 193, estimated between GBP 15,000 – GBP 25,000 (see fig. 4a & 4b). There are a vast number of Jian Hare’s Fur bowls are recorded in the renowned museum and for commercial. Yet, Tian bowls carved with true ‘gongyu’ or other imperial mark like the present vessel are undoubtedly treasures of imperial Song dynasty tea bowls and much sought by collectors today. There are other marks of Jian tea bowls found, including Jinqian and Tian marks that were devoted for imperial of Northern Song dynasty. For example, compare with a Jian bowl with a tian (‘heaven’) character and a leaf fan, both incised and gilt and the rim later bound in gold, sold at Sotheby’s London, 11 May 2011, lot 7, for GBP 1,105,250, initially estimated between GBP 500,000 – GBP 700,000 (see fig. 5).

Citation:

  1. Hare’s Fur, Tortoiseshell, and Partridge Feathers, Chinese Brown- and Black-Glazed Ceramics, 400-1400, Mowry, R.D, Cambridge, Mass. 1995, p. 214.

  2. The Chinese Potter, A Practical History of Chinese Ceramics, Margaret Medley, London, 1999, pp. 162-163.

  3. Karamono temmoku: Fukken-shō ken’yō shutsudo temmoku to Nihon densei no temmoku, tokubetsuten, (Temmoku Tea Wares: Temmoku Excavated from the Jian Kilns in Fujian Province and Temmoku in Japanese Private Collections, A Special Exhibition), Atami, 1994, pp. 60–61, nos. 40, 41 and 46.

  4. Song Ceramics from The Kwan Collection, Hong Kong Museum of Art, 1994, pp. 368-369.

  5. Art Chinois, Néolithique, Dynastie Song, Collection Umberto Draghi, Musée Royal de Mariemont, 1990, pp. 109-110, no. 89.

  6. Hare’s Fur, Tortoiseshell and Partridge Feathers, Chinese Brown and Black-Glazed Ceramics,400-1400, Robert Mowry, Cambridge, 1996, p.204, no.7.

  7. Pottery And Porcelain, From Prehistory to the Present, S.J. Vainker, Published for the Trustees of the British Museum, British Museum Press, London, 1991, p. 121.

  8. Chinese Glazes: Their Origins, Chemistry, and Recreation, Nigel Wood, p. 151.

  9. Song Dynasty Ceramics, .J. Lally & Co, New York, 2013, no.40.

  • Hare’s Fur, Tortoiseshell, and Partridge Feathers, Robert D. Mowry, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge Mass., 1996, p. 30.

CATALOGUE ENTRY.

Song dynasty