Jar, incised and glazed stoneware, Ding ware, China, Northern Song dynasty, 1000-1125Victoria & Albert Museum © V&A Images

Height: 29.5 cm, Diameter: 24.0 cm. Purchased with the assistance of The Art Fund, the Vallentin Bequest, Sir Percival David and the Universities China Committee. Museum number: C.37-1935. 

This jar is an example of Ding ware, made in the Hebei province of China during the Northern Song dynasty (960-1127). Ding wares were of the earliest true porcelains made in China, and the world. The term porcelain is applied to ceramics made from a mixture containing a clay called kaolin and a white stone called petuntse, which was fired at high temperatures. Porcelains differ from other ceramics in their impermeability, whiteness and fine texture.

This jar is typical of Ding wares in its ivory-white hue and its incised scrolling lotus blossom and leaf surface decoration. The lotus was strongly associated with Buddhism, and was a popular motif of this period.

The harmonious proportions and subtle decoration of this jar are characteristic of Song dynasty ceramics. It belongs to a category of Chinese stoneware known as Ding ware, as it was made in Dingzhou, in present-day Hebei province, north of the great north-south divide (see p.24). The jar is covered with an ivory-coloured glaze, which is a distinguishing feature of Ding ware. The design of a lotus is incised and the fluency with which the motif is executed testifies to the skill of the potter. To streamline production and to reduce cost, the Ding kilns introduced moulded decorations towards the middle of the twelfth century. Later-day ceramic collectors, however, have always valued incised decoration over moulded work.

In the eleventh century the choicest Ding wares were sent as tribute to the imperial court, as their subtle beauty suited the restrained taste of the Song dynasty emperors. After 1127 northern China came under the rule of the Nüzhen, a nomadic minority from outside the Great Wall, and Ding ware temporarily lost its 'imperial' status. However, when in 1368 China once more had an emperor of the Han race, Ding ware became prized by Chinese collectors again, and was hailed as one of the 'Five Great Song Ceramics' (together with Ru, Guan, Ge and Jun).