A Longquan celadon ‘twin-phoenix’ mallet vase, Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279)

Lot 717. A Longquan celadon ‘twin-phoenix’ mallet vase, Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279)10 ¾ in. (27.3 cm.) high. Estimate USD 200,000 - USD 300,000. Price realised USD 605,000. © Christie's Image Ltd 2016.

The vase is robustly potted with a mallet-shaped body, with sides tapering slightly towards the foot from the canted shoulder. The tall neck is flanked by a pair of phoenix handles below the widely flared mouth with upturned rim. The vase is covered overall with an even glaze of soft sea-green tone, leaving the foot ring unglazed, Japanese double wood box.

ProvenanceYouichi Nakajima, previous owner of Mitochu Tea Ceremony Shop, Nihonbashi, Tokyo, circa 1950s-1960s

LiteratureChristie's, The Classic Age of Chinese Ceramics, An Exhibition of Song Treasures from the Linyushanren Collection, Hong Kong, 2012, pp. 178-179, no. 76

ExhibitedChristie'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.

Note: This superb celadon vase exemplifies the finest Longquan celadon wares, which have been revered both in China and Japan for more than seven hundred years. At its finest, as on the current vase, Longquan celadon glaze is thick, translucent, and has a rich texture reminiscent of jade. The glaze on the current vase also displays the ideal soft bluish-green color that was so difficult for potters to achieve, but has always been greatly admired by connoisseurs. This particularly fine glaze type is often known by the Japanese name kinuta, which in fact is the term for a mallet, and refers to mallet-shaped vases such as the current example that were imported into Japan in the Southern Song (1127-1279) and Yuan (1279-1368) dynasties, and became associated with this, the most desired glaze color. 

It has also been suggested by several scholars that this shape, despite resembling a paper mallet, may in fact have been introduced to China as a glass vase or bottle from the Islamic west, possibly Iran. Fragments of glass vessels of this shape were found in 1997 among the material from the cargo of the Intan shipwreck excavated off the Indonesian coast. This ship is believed to date to the Northern Song period.

The majority of kinuta vases, however, were made with two distinctive handles, either in the form of phoenixes, as in the case of the current vase, or in the form of fish, as exemplified by another vase in the Beijing Palace Museum illustrated inPorcelain of the Song Dynasty (II), The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, bid., p. 110, no. 98.

Longquan vases of this mallet shape have also been preserved in Japanese collections, and some have been bestowed particularly high status by the Japanese authorities. A number of these vases were included in the exhibition Heavenly Blue: Southern Song Celadons held at the Nezu Museum, Tokyo, 2010, and are illustrated in the exhibition catalogue, pp. 46-53, no. 17 (Yomei Bunko, Kyoto), no. 18 (Kuboso Memorial Museum of Arts, Izumi), no. 19 (Hakutsuru fine Art Museum, Kobe), no. 20 (Tokiwayama Bunko, Tokyo), no. 21 (Nezu Museum, Tokyo), no. 22 (Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka), no. 23 (The Tokugawa Art Museum, Nagoya), no. 24 (unknown private collection), and no. 25 (Seikado Bunko Art Museum, Tokyo). In terms of glaze, size and form, the Tokiwayama Bunko vase is the most similar to the current vase. The Yomei Bunko vase, known as Sensei (One Thousand Cries), as well as the vase in the Museum of Oriental Ceramics have both been designated as Important Cultural Property, while the Kuboso Museum vase, known as Bansei (Ten Thousand Cries), has been designated as a Japanese National Treasure.

Christie's. The Classic Age of Chinese Ceramics: The Linyushanren Collection, Part II - 15 September 2016, New York, Rockefeller Plaza