Yuan/Early Ming dynasty: A Numbered ‘Four’ Jun Rosy Purple in Archaic Zun-Shaped Vase.

You are currently viewing Yuan/Early Ming dynasty: A Numbered ‘Four’ Jun Rosy Purple in Archaic Zun-Shaped Vase.

DESCRIPTION.

This vase is robust and thickly potted in an archaic ritual zun-formed (尊) bronze, executed in truncated globular body and angular shoulder surmounted by a widely flared trumpet-shaped mouth, applied with four sets of rectangular flanges accentuating its shape, all the exterior covered with a thickly mottled rosy-purple glaze or ‘mei gui zi’ and its uneven glaze melting off and thinning to a greenish-brown color on the raised edges stopping irregularly at the broad spreading foot revealing to the buff stoneware body, the interior covered in a rich mottled lavender-blue color suffused with an earthworm-like mark thinning at the rims, the thinly glazed base pierced with one drainage hole and inscribed with the incised si (‘four’) around the unglazed brown color of foot.

RESEARCH & ESSAY.

The present ‘Jun’ vase is visibly modelled after a classical archaic bronze ritual wine vessel (Zun) of the Late Shang Dynasty – Early Western Zhou Dynasty, 11th century BC. A closely related form of prototype from the Idemitsu Museum of Arts, is illustrated in Ancient Chinese Arts in the Idemitsu Collection, Tokyo, 1989, Catalogue, no. 48. Another from the Shanghai Museum was exhibited in the Hong Kong Museum of Art, illustrated, p.59, no.11, and in the Bronzes of the Shanghai Museum, Hong Kong, 1937, no.8. Also, the zun from the Pillsbury Collection with extended flanges, is illustrated in The Catalogue of Chinese Bronzes in the Alfred F. Pillsbury Collection, Minneapolis, 1972, p.78, pl.39, no.26. Another from Metropolitan Museum is illustrated by Howard, Kathleen, ed in The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide, 2nd ed, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1994, p. 108, fig. 36 (see fig. 1).

From Song to early Ming dynasties, an indigenous ceramic culture flourished in China. The demand for archaic-shaped ceramics reverberated, and potters at Henan kilns stimulated Jun vessels to echo the remarkable archaic-shaped bronze prototypes. The antiquity forms like the present vase reflected the interest of Emperor Huizong (宋徽宗, 1082–1135) of Song dynasty, and this Jun vase shape was then popular in Yuan to early Ming courts in antiquities. In the Yuan to early Ming periods (14th – 15th century), the ceramic Jun ‘zun’ vessels, like the current piece, were commonly used at the courts for religious ceremonies to hold wine that were created identical to the craftsmanship and artistic styles in those eras.

Jun ware, like the current piece, is a third style of ceramic produced in Jun kiln center at Juntai in Yuzhou, Henan Province, which was used at the late Northern Song to Ming court. This Jun vase is celebrated as a rosy purple or ‘mei gui zi’ zun-shaped vase in China, and is well-known for its stunning glaze appearance, which is due to the firing of thickly bubble rosy-purple with copper red glaze melting and stopping heterogeneously above the foot of the vessel. Its copper-red colors contained large amount of copper oxides. Fired with reduction flame, the copper in the glaze became colloid particles at a high temperature, and iridescent red furnace-transmutation color appearing on the whole glaze surface. All these features are positive marks of Yuan to early Ming Jun ware for this Jun zun-shaped vessel. The rosy purple glaze of Jun vase, like the current vessel, was highly valued by the seventeenth-century Ming Qing connoisseurs. For example, Sun Chengze (1592-1676), a connoisseur and official of late Ming to early Qing dynasties praised and described it in his literature. In his Yanshan zhai zaji (Jottings from the Inkstone Mountain studio), Sun Chengze (1592-1676) grouped it together Chai, Ru, Guan, Ge, Jun and Ding and it was the first to associate Jun ware (he is praising Jun vases) with the Song dynasty – so far, although Chai, Ru, Guan, Ge and Ding wares had been singled out, their date had never been specified.

Likewise, according to Nan yao bi ji (Notes on southern kilns), Jun ware was fired at Junzhou during the Northern Song period when many flower vessels were made. The author then lists the characteristic colors: fire red, rosy purple, donkey liver, horse lungs, moon white and red like the clouds at sunset. This palette, variously extended and modified, will always be debated in later writings. The unknown author also notes that the numbers inscribed on the base serve for matching vessels. In another passage, he does not include Jun among the ten great wares of the Song and Ming dynasty (Chai, Ru, Guan, Ge, Ding, Longquan, Xuande, Chenghua, Jiajing and Wanli), nevertheless, he considers Jun as an official ware. See: Jun Ware: Shards in the Collection of the Chinese Museum of Parma, Museo of Arte, Roberta Enseki Hancock (France).  Centro Saveriano, Animazione Missionaria, Brescia, 2011.

Before the 1990s, Jun ware was listed as one of the ‘Five Classic Wares’ (wu da yao) of the Song dynasty (960 – 1279) in almost all scholars’ literatures relying on its remarkable shape and alluring glaze. Juntai kilns at Yuzhou, Henan province had many kilns that the numbered Jun wares of several types of flowerpots and stands, including sherds with distinctive numeral-incised si (‘four’) mark, excavated in 1974. These fragments were dated to Song to early Ming periods (see fig. 2), illustrated by Sun Xinmin, Zhao Wenjun and Guo Musen in Henan Gudai Ciyao [The Ancient Kilns of Henan Province], Taipei, 2002, p. 191. Dating the Jun yao vessels, the scholars have diversity of opinion. Regina Krahl in Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, vol. 3, pt. II, London, 2006, p. 456, notes that ‘Jun’ is not mentioned in any pre-Ming text, and although it was later ranked among the five ‘classic wares’ of the Song, the exact identity of ‘Jun’ is still a matter of debate. It was a ware that seems to have appealed particularly to the elite from the Jin dynasty onwards, when some of the most spectacular and complex pieces were being made. Although the numbered Jun wares were traditionally attributed to the Northern Song dynasty (960-1127), but recent research and archaeological evidence suggest they were more likely made in the early Ming dynasty. Li Baoping in ‘Numbered Jun wares: Controversies and new kiln site discoveries’, on Tuesday 8 May 2007, Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society (TOCS, London), 2008, pp. 65-69 reported that numerous complete wares were excavated in Juntai kiln in Yuzhou, Henan province including two rosy purple-glazed flange ‘zun’ vessel dated to early Ming. Yet, the author cited the archaeologists’ conclusion from Henan Archaeology Institute that the inferior 2004 finds are later imitations (red: Yuan or Ming periods), while the finer 1974 finds and most museum items are original Imperial wares, which, according to the researchers from the Palace Museum in Beijing, were made in the Northern Song.

The present rosy purple Jun zun-shaped vase belongs to a celebrated group of imperial Jun zun-shaped vases with prominent flanges and coated with a wide range of glaze, where each vessel has been incised or stamped with an official Chinese numeral ‘Four’ on the base. In solving the speculations whether the current vessel was created in Song, Yuan or early Ming periods, we may find the archaeological artifact sources and dozens of samples remained in the renowned worldwide museums. No two pieces of Jun zun-shape vessel in the published collections are exactly alike. Compare to a restored purple-glazed Jun ware zun-shaped vase in crudely potted body attributed to early Ming, excavated from the Juntai kiln in Yuzhou city, incised ‘number five’ in underside (height: 26.65 cm), illustrated in Yuzhou Juntai yao kaogu xinfaxian yu chubu yanjiu [A preliminary study of the new archaeological discoveries from Juntai kilns] “in Henan Archaeology Institute et al eds.”, Collection of Papers Presented at the 2005 Yuzhou Symposium on Jun Wares, Guo Peiyu, Zhengzhou, 2007, pp 44–50 (see fig. 3). Two other known zun-shaped vases like the current shape covered with a lilac purple glaze bearing the number ‘six’ dated to 15th century (see fig. 4), both from the National Palace Museum, Taipei, one with moon-white glaze, illustrated in Chun Ware, A Panorama of Ceramics in the Collection of the National Palace Museum, 1999, pp. 38-39, no. 2.  The Jun zun-shaped vessels in Museums’ collections, like the present vessel shape, are also widely coated with moon-white glaze. Compare to a moon-white glazed zun vessel with numerical ‘three’, dated to Song dynasty, from Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in Porcelain of the Song Dynasty (I), The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Hong Kong, 1996, pp. 14-15, no. 12 (see fig. 5); another incised with the numeral ‘four’ from the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, is published by He Li in Chinese Ceramics: A New Comprehensive Survey, New York, 1996, no. 245. Compare to a zun-shaped vase covered with thick milky lavender-blue glaze (25 cm in width) dated to Yuan to early Ming periods bearing numerical ‘six’, sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 2 December 2015, lot. 2811, for HK$ 4,600,000 or equivalent to US$ 596,326, initially estimated between HK$ 4,000,000 – HK$ 6,000,000 (see fig. 6). Another from J.M. Hu collection in the Shanghai Museum, is illustrated in Selected Ceramics from the Collection of Mr & Mrs J. M. Hu, p. 9 (see fig. 7).

The remarkable feature of the Jun category in the imperial collections published is the numerical mark incised or stamped on the vessel’s base. The numerical comprises the numbers ranging from one to ten to designate its size, where number one is the largest, and number ten is the smallest piece. Further, the debate of ‘numbered Jun ware’ attribution was resolved in 2005 by scholars. In 2005, the Shanghai Museum tested samples from different Jun-ware kiln sites with thermoluminescence and determined that two fragments of distinctive “Numbered Jun’ ware excavated in 1974 from the Juntai kilns were manufactured in the fourteenth century, during the late Yuan or early Ming periods. Although the date of this special group of “Number Jun” ceramics continues to be given any time ranging from the Song dynasty to the Ming dynasty, fifteenth century, tangible documentary evidence seems to support the attribution of late Yuan to early Ming dynasty, fourteenth century, given here. See: Decorative Arts in the Robert Lehman Collection, Decorative Arts, Vol XV, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Koeppe, Wolfram, Clare Le Corbeiller, William Rieder, Charles Truman, Suzanne G. Valenstein, Claire Vincent, and contributors, 2012, p. 308.

Jun ware zun-shaped vases like the present type, are coated with different glaze and they have been sought after in the sale. A rosy purple or ‘mei gui zi’ glaze effect like on the current piece is also applied on the different forms of Jun vessel. The similar rosy-purple-glazed or or ‘mei gui zi’ is applied on Jun jardinière with the numerical ‘Three’ and dated to Yuan dynasty, from the National Palace Museum, Taipei, is included in A Panorama of Ceramics in the Collection of the National Palace MuseumChun Ware, Taipei, 1999, pp. 54 – 55, no. 10. See a similar rosy-purple glaze effect on ‘number three’ Jun jardinière on the exterior, while the interior is covered with a rich mottled lavender-blue color (22 cm in width), dated to 14th – 15th century, from Sen Shu Tey collection, Tokyo, and then it was sold at Christie’s New York, 15th September 2016, lot. 724, for US$ 389,000, initially estimated between US$ 200,000 – U$ 300,000 (see fig. 8).

Citation:

  1. Ancient Chinese Arts in the Idemitsu Collection, Tokyo, 1989, Catalogue, no. 48.

  2. Hong Kong Museum of Art, Shanghai Museum, p.59, no.11,

  3. Bronzes of the Shanghai Museum, Hong Kong, 1937, no.8.

  4. The Catalogue of Chinese Bronzes in the Alfred F. Pillsbury Collection, Minneapolis, 1972, p.78, pl.39, no.26.

  5. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. 2nd ed, Howard, Kathleen, ed, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1994, p. 108, fig. 36

  6. Jun Ware: Shards in the Collection of the Chinese Museum of Parma, Museo of Arte, Roberta Enseki Hancock (France).  Centro Saveriano, Animazione Missionaria, Brescia, 2011.

  7. Henan Gudai Ciyao [The Ancient Kilns of Henan Province], Sun Xinmin, Zhao Wenjun and Guo Musen Taipei, 2002, p. 191.

  8. Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, vol. 3, pt. II, London, 2006, p. 456.

  9. ‘Numbered Jun wares: Controversies and new kiln site discoveries’, on Tuesday 8 May 2007, Li Baoping, Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society (TOCS, London), 2008, 65-69.

  10. Yuzhou Juntai yao kaogu xinfaxian yu chubu yanjiu [A preliminary study of the new archaeological discoveries from Juntai kilns] “in Henan Archaeology Institute et al eds.”, Collection of Papers Presented at the 2005 Yuzhou Symposium on Jun Wares, Guo Peiyu, Zhengzhou, 2007, pp 44–50.

  11. Chun Ware, A Panorama of Ceramics in the Collection of the National Palace Museum, 1999, pp. 38-39, no. 2.

  12. Porcelain of the Song Dynasty (I), The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Hong Kong, 1996, pp. 14-15, no. 12.

  13. Chinese Ceramics: A New Comprehensive Survey, He Li, New York, 1996, no. 245.

  14. Selected Ceramics from the Collection of Mr & Mrs J. M. Hu, Shanghai Museum, p. 9.

  15. Decorative Arts in the Robert Lehman Collection, Decorative Arts, Vol XV, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Koeppe, Wolfram, Clare Le Corbeiller, William Rieder, Charles Truman, Suzanne G. Valenstein, Claire Vincent, and contributors, 2012, p. 308.

  16. A Panorama of Ceramics in the Collection of the National Palace Museum, Chun Ware, Taipei, 1999, pp. 54 – 55, no. 10.

CATALOGUE ENTRY.

Yuan dynasty