A very rare and important brown-glazed Dingyao molded conical bowl, Northern Song dynasty (AD 960-1279)

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A very rare and important brown-glazed Dingyao molded conical bowl, Northern Song dynasty (AD 960-1279). Estimate $600,000 – $800,000. Photo Christie's Image Ltd 2015

The bowl has a widely flared body crisply molded on the interior with a lotus plant and sagittaria sagittifolia in the center below two fish swimming amidst further lotus plants, sagittaria sagittifolila, water weeds and grasses on the sides, and is covered overall with a glaze of ochre-brown color that stops at the unglazed rim exposing the fine white body and continues over the shallow foot ring to cover the base. 6 1/8 in. (15.6 cm.) diam.

ProvenanceCarl Kempe (1884-1967) Collection, Ekolsund, Sweden, no. 333. 
J.J. Lally & Co., New York, 2010, no. 4479.

LiteratureB. Gyllensvärd, Chinese Ceramics in the Carl Kempe Collection, Stockholm, 1964, p. 134, no. 421.
J. Wirgin, 'Sung Ceramic Designs', B.M.F.E.A., No. 42, Stockholm, 1970, pl. 90-a.
Chinese Ceramic Treasures: A Selection from the Ulricehamn East Asian Museum, Including the Carl Kempe Collection, Ulricehamn, 2002, pl. 623. 
J.J. Lally & Co., Chinese Ceramics in Black and White, New York, 2010, no. 23. 

Exhibited: New York, J.J. Lally & Co., Chinese Ceramics in Black and White, 2010, no. 23.

NotesThis bowl is exceptionally rare amongst Ding wares in being covered with a brown glaze, instead of the more usual ivory glaze. It is also rare amongst brown-glazed Ding wares in having moulded decoration on the interior. Although the Ding kilns are known for high-fired ceramics with clear ivory glazes and a small number of black-glazed bowls, a small number of brown-glazed Ding ware vessels are also known. These brown glazes, which owe their colour to iron oxide, occur in a range of shades from dark soy brown to a russet brown, and with varying degrees of opacity. Brown-glazed wares were being made at least as early as the mid-Northern Song period, as evidenced by the brown-glazed Ding ware vase in the collection of the Jiangsu Provincial Museum, which has been linked to two similar vases from a tomb dated the 4th year of Kangning – equivalent to AD 1071 (illustrated in Zhongguo Taoci – Dingyao, Tokyo, 1981, no. 58), and another excavated in 2002 from a Northern Song tomb at Shiafen, Jintan City (illustrated in Complete Collection of Ceramic Art Unearthed in China  7  Jiangsu, Shanghai, Beijing, 2008, p. 129). Purple [brown] Ding wares are mentioned by Cao Zhao in the Gegu yaolun of AD 1388, where it is noted that the brown and black Ding wares were more expensive than the white-glazed wares (see Sir Percival David, Chinese Connoisseurship  The Ko Ku Yao Lun, The Essential Criteria of Antiquities, London, 1971, p. 141).

The majority of extant brown-glazed Ding wares do not have either incised or moulded decoration, although a few russet-coloured bowls retain the remains of gold decoration applied to the glaze surface – as in the case of two brown-glazed bowls from the collection of the Tokyo National Museum illustrated in Song Ceramics, Osaka, 1999, pp. 72-3, nos. 35 and 36. The current bowl belongs to an extremely small group of brown-glazed Ding ware bowls which have moulded decoration under the glaze, which are ascribed either a Song or Jin dynasty date. A bowl with dark brown glaze was excavated in 1975 in Jilin province (illustrated in Zhongguo Taoci – Dingyaoop. cit., no. 113). This bowl is slightly lobed and its interior decoration is arranged in panels with a different flower spray in each panel. A shard of another brown-glazed Ding bowl was found at the Ding ware kiln site at Yanchuancun, Chuyangxian in Hebei province in 1980 (illustrated in Zhongguo Taoci – Dingyaoop. cit., no. 143). It is probable that the current bowl was also made at this site. The moulded floral decoration on the fragment is very similar to that seen on ivory-glazed Ding ware vessels. A brown-glazed Ding bowl excavated from the ancient Liao dynasty site of Qingzhou in the Balin (or Bairin) Right Banner in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, and now in the Balin Right Banner Cultural Bureau, is illustrated in Zhongguo Wenwu Qinghua Da Cidian, Shanghai, 1995, no. 349. Like the current bowl, the Balin Right Banner bowl is decorated with a design of fish in a lotus pond.

It is interesting to compare the moulded decoration on the current brown-glazed bowl with that on extant ivory-glazed vessels. The fish and the water are rendered in a distinctive manner. In the case of the water this is depicted using fine raised parallel lines, which both undulate and form eddies. A bowl in the Liaoning Provincial Museum has lotus and birds around the interior sides, but in the centre has fish in waves (illustrated in Zhongguo Taoci – Dingyaoop. cit., no. 91). Both the fish and the waves are depicted in similar styles to those seen around the sides of the current bowl. A similarity in the depiction of both water and fish can also be seen on a bowl in the Palace Museum (illustrated inZhongguo Taoci – Dingyaoop. cit., no. 88).

Rosemary Scott
International Academic Director, Asian Art

Christie's. FINE CHINESE CERAMICS AND WORKS OF ART, 17 - 18 September 2015, New York, Rockefeller Plaza