A Longquan celadon, 'Twin Fish' dish, Southern Song Dynasty, 13th Century

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Lot 2806. A Longquan celadon, 'Twin Fish' dish, Southern Song Dynasty, 13th Century;  8 3/8 in. (21.3 cm.) diam. Estimate HK$900,000 – HK$1,200,000 ($116,672 - $155,563)Price realised HKD 2,260,000. Photo Christie's Image Ltd 2015

The dish is potted with deep fluted sides carved with upright lotus petals on the exterior, rising to a flat everted rim. The interior is decorated with a pair of sprig-moulded fish. The dish is covered overall with an even glaze of bluish-green tone, with the exception of the foot ring which is burnt orange in the firing, Japanese wood box

ProvenanceSen Shu Tey, Tokyo

LiteratureSen Shu Tey, The Collection of Chinese Art, Tokyo, 2006, p. 59, no. 70
Nezu Museum, Heavenly Blue: Southern Song Celadons, Tokyo, 2010, p. 71, fig. 44
Christie's, The Classical Age of Chinese Ceramics: An Exhibition of Song Treasures from the Linyushanren Collection, Hong Kong, 2012, pp. 166-167, no. 68

ExhibitedSen Shu Tey, Special Exhibition Run Through 10 Years, Tokyo, 2006, Catalogue, no. 70
Nezu Museum, Heavenly Blue: Southern Song Celadons, Tokyo, 9 October to 14 November 2010, Catalogue, no. 44
Christie's, The Classical Age of Chinese Ceramics: An Exhibition of Song Treasures from the Linyushanren Collection, Hong Kong, 22 to 27 November 2012; New York, 15 to 20 March 2013; London, 10 to 14 May 2013, Catalogue, no. 68

NoteThe decorative scheme on this handsome dish claims a variety of meanings. At its most basic, it can be read simply as two fish swimming in the bluish-green waters of the small pond suggested by the dish’s circular form and aquatic colour. But the Chinese are fond of plays on words, particularly of puns based on homonyms, or words that are pronounced identically but have different meanings. Many Chinese designs thus lend themselves to presentation as rebuses, or visual puns. Pronounced  in Mandarin Chinese, the word for 'fish' is a homonym for 'surplus' and, by extension, 'abundance'. Thus, as a visual pun, the fish can be interpreted as a wish to the viewer for abundance in all things. Moreover, because there are two fish, Chinese viewers would interpret the design as shuangyú, which means 'double fish' and, by extension, is an auspicious wish to the viewer for double abundance or great good fortune. Additionally, the double-fish motif stands as a symbol of marital harmony. See, Stacey Pierson, Designs as Signs: Decoration and Chinese Ceramics, London: Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 2001, p. 19. 

The appearance of double fish motif can be traced back to as early as the Han dynasty. Bronze pan vessels decorated with double-fish motif were popular from the Eastern Han to the Jin Dynasty. It was based on the bronze prototype that the early ceramic version of ‘double fish’ dishes were produced. A Western Jin Dynasty Yue ware ‘double fish’ dish from the Sir Percival David Collection, London is illustrated by Ikutaro Itoh in Masterpieces of Chinese Ceramics from the Percival David Collection, Osaka, 1998, p. 30, Catalogue, no. 1. In all these early examples, two fish were placed side by side, symmetrical on a central axis. The change of composition on Longquan version by making two fish chasing each other transformed the old motif into a lively scene. 

A very similar dish unearthed from the Southern Song dynasty hoard in Taojiang county, Hunan province is illustrated in Nezu Museum, Heavenly Blue: Southern Song Celadons, Tokyo, 2010, p. 144, fig. 24-9. A dish of similar form but decorated with a pair of small fish was unearthed from the Sinan shipwreck, illustrated in Relics Salvaged from the Seabed Off Sinan, Seoul, 1985, p. 23, plate. 11. A virtually identical dish with twin-fish motif from the Sakamoto Goro Collection sold at Sotheby’s New York, 16 September 2014, lot 2. An example from the Riesco Collection sold twice at Sotheby’s, London, once in 1984 and again in 1986, and then at Christie’s New York, on 19 September 2007, lot 260. Another example, from the Sir Percival David Collection and now in the British Museum, London, is illustrated by S. Pierson, Designs as Signs: Decoration and Chinese Ceramics, London, 2001, pl. 11.

Christie's. THE CLASSIC AGE OF CHINESE CERAMICS - THE LINYUSHANREN COLLECTION, PART I, 2 December 2015, Convention Hall