Lot 1. A finely carved large imperial heirloom Dingyao bowl, Northern Song dynasty (960-1127), 25.8 cm, 10 1/8 in. Estimate 3,000,000 — 4,000,000. Lot Sold 6,700,000 HKD. Photo: Sotheby's.
the rounded conical sides supported on a knife-pared foot, rising to a flared rim with six indentations, the interior liberally and superbly carved with two large lotus blooms and broad leaves borne on curling stems, applied overall with an ivory-coloured glaze pooling in characteristic teardrops on the plain exterior, save for the unglazed lobed rim, the base partially covered with a dab of glaze and revealing the greyish-white body.
Provenance: Collection of the Chang Foundation, Taipei.
Bibliography: James Spencer (comp.), Selected Chinese Ceramics from Han to Qing Dynasties, Chang Foundation, Taipei, 1990, cat. no. 25.
Note: At a casual glance this elegant bowl might seem like the archetypal Ding bowl; a closer look makes it clear that this bowl is on a different plane from most related pieces: its superb potting, swiftly and masterfully carved design, exquisite glaze and exceptional size are hard to match among extant Ding wares. The Ding kilns are known to have produced porcelains for the Northern Song (960-1127) court, but only occasionally do we come across a piece so concisely designed and exquisitely crafted that an imperial provenance springs to mind, and so well preserved that we think of a carefully protected heirloom piece. The present bowl, one of the largest examples of its type in existence, is one of those pieces.
Although this superbly styled and executed vessel would seem like a blue-print for Ding bowls, as its shape and design stand in the well-known stylistic tradition of the Ding kilns at the peak of their activity in the Northern Song dynasty, the present bowl stands out not only because of its large size, but also its distinct, mould-enhanced shape, the crispness and clarity of its carving with two lotus blooms and a large leaf and two stems of arrow-head, and the gloss and tactility of its glaze. It is an individually crafted example which seems like an idealised model for a more quickly produced series of smaller bowls, to which nowhere near the same amount of time and care could be devoted, and which therefore could not rise to the same standard.
Celebrated for their thin potting, fine white body, which does not require a coating of slip to appear white after firing, and their ivory-coloured glaze, which tends to run down in somewhat darker ‘tears’, Ding wares became renowned for their elegant forms, some of which derived from contemporaneous silver and lacquer shapes, but many others – like the present form – were independently developed by the potters, and found favour with the court and wealthy monasteries during the Northern Song and Jin (1115-1234) periods. Due to the fragility of their thinly potted body that was prone to warping during the potting and firing stages, Ding bowls of similar type often measure around 22 cm in diameter, but hardly ever exceed that size. Only some of the wide basins and shallow moulded dishes from the Ding kilns are larger in diameter, but they are much more sturdily potted.
The restrained, yet flowing lines of the carved decoration successfully capture the spirit and grace of the lotus flower, like brush strokes in contemporary ink painting, while accentuating the refined quality of the porcelain body. Symbolic of purity and integrity, because it rises clean out of muddy waters, the lotus was a popular motif throughout the Song dynasty (960-1279) due to the Confucian value of personal virtue, and frequently appeared on white-glazed Ding wares, whose pure glaze tone enhances the flower’s message.
A fine and large 'Ding' 'Lotus' Bowl, Song Dynasty, 25cm., 9 3/4 in. Sold for 229,250 GBP at Sotheby's London rooms, 16th May 2012, lot 88. Photo Sotheby's
Sotheby's. Song – Important Chinese Ceramics from the Le Cong Tang Collection, Hong Kong, 03 oct. 2017, 10:20 AM